You probably already know that 3D printing technology is being used to reconstruct faces of patients who have suffered from accidents or rare diseases. But according to a presented study at a Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) meeting yesterday, 3D printing as well as computed tomography (CT) is also being used to create life-size models of patient’s heads. Scientist print out these face models in order to guide their personnel during face transplantation surgeries.
The patients underwent preoperative CT with 3D visualization. They processed and segmented the CT images using customized software and created special data files for a 3D printer. The procedure of a face transplant lasts about 25 hours, but the vascular connections from the donor face to the recipient takes just one hour, and during that time the patient’s blood flow needs to be stopped.
Dr. Frank Rybicki from Brigham and Women’s Hospital in the US said:
If there are absent or missing bony structures needed for reconstruction, we can make modifications based on the 3D printed model prior to the actual transplantation, instead of taking the time to do alterations during ischemia time. The 3D model is important for making the transplant cosmetically appealing.
He also said that the best way of planning the procedure is by using the model and holding the skull in your hand. “In some patients, we need to modify the recipient’s facial bones prior to transplantation,” added researcher Amir Imanzadeh from the same hospital. “The 3D printed model helps us to prepare the facial structures so when the actual transplantation occurs, the surgery goes more smoothly.”
The models increased the surgeon’s understanding of the autonomy of the patient’s face, said the researchers. Since 2011, the hospital has completed five face transplants. Involved surgeons and radiologists said the procedure reduced total procedure time. And based on this study, 3D printing technology has now routinely been used for surgical planning for face transplantation procedures at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. 3D printed models may be implemented in other complex surgeries as well.
Image credits: RSNA.