Printing Facial Parts

Scientists at Indiana University are testing a new process that could be faster and more flexible than traditional prosthetic sculpting methods.

3D modeling and printing were used to produce extraordinarily lifelike facial prosthetics faster than traditional methods. The first patient tested for the method is Shirley Anderson, who was first diagnosed with cancer on his tongue in 1998.

Radiation treatments damaged Anderson’s Adam’s apple and jaw, and multiple attempts at reconstructive surgery failed. For years, Anderson wore a surgical mask in public to conceal his badly scarred face.

In 2012, Anderson began working with Dr. Travis Bellicchi, a maxillofacial prosthodontics resident at the IU school of dentistry. Anderson’s face was digitally scanned, then, the digital sculpting software Zbrush was used to model a prosthetic jaw. The Zbrush created the narrow feathered edges of the prosthetic, which help it sit flush with a patient’s own skin, making it much more lifelike.

Molds based on the sculpt were then printed using a Formlabs desktop 3D printer.

Image source: Formlabs

A Boon In Prosthetics

The 3D printing technology is quickly gaining ground in prosthetics, from hands to legs, all of which require degrees of customization that are difficult or expensive to achieve by other means. Facial prosthetics, in particular, are very labor intensive, and requiring meticulous hand-sculpting for each patient.

It took researchers just six weeks to produce Anderson’s prosthesis is much faster than traditional methods, producing prostheses in as little as six weeks. According to researchers, six other patients have already benefited from the process, which has been dubbed the Shirley Technique.

If you have a second, take a look at this video following Shirley's story:

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