3D printing will recreate injured biker’s face

Cutting edge 3D printing technology is being used to recreate the severely injured face of a road accident victim.

A team of surgeons are poised to carry out a pioneering operation which will restore the symmetry of a man’s face — using new parts produced by a printer.

The unaffected side of the biker’s face has been used to create a mirror image which will enable perfect facial reconstruction.

A virtual world of computer images is being used to create titanium implants using additive manufacturing — commonly known as 3D printing.

The images are used both to design guides to cut and position facial bones with pinpoint accuracy and create tailor-made implants for the patient.

The guides and implants are being produced in medical-grade titanium in Belgium at one of the world’s few specialist 3D printing facilities. Surgeons in Swansea, south Wales, used a CT scan to create minutely detailed 3D images to design the bespoke implants.

The futuristic work is led by consultant surgeon Adrian Sugar at Morriston Hospital in Swansea.

The work is considered so groundbreaking and radical it already features in an exhibition at London’s Science Museum — even though the operation itself has yet to be carried out.

Peter Evans, a reconstructive scientist and Maxillofacial Laboratory Services manager, said: “The patient suffered trauma and had multiple injuries across his body, including some quite severe facial injuries. He underwent emergency surgery at the time and we are now at the stage where we can do a proper reconstruction of his face.”

The project is the work of the Centre of Applied Reconstructive Technologies in Surgery (Cartis), established in 2006 as a partnership between Morriston Hospital’s maxillofacial (jaws and face) unit and Product Design and Research based at Cardiff Metropolitan University.

The complex surgery will involve repositioning the patient’s facial bones.

Evans added: “We have done everything up to the point of surgery. The concept of the operation has been virtually designed and we hope to do the work very soon.

“The patient’s facial symmetry will be restored so he should be back to normal as far as his facial looks are concerned.”

Discussions are now taking place to plan as to when the surgery itself will take place. The identity of the patient concerned has not been revealed.

Referring to the London exhibition, Evans said: “The exhibition is all about cutting-edge activities in this area of work so to have this case appear there is amazing.”

Called 3D: Printing The Future, the exhibition continues at the Science Museum until Jul 1 next year.


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