We've examined the technology of 3D printing in these pages on several occasions. Now comes news of its use in a very impressive medical breakthrough.
When restaurant manager Eric Moger surprised his girlfriend by proposing over Christmas dinner, he could have no idea that less than a year later his life and appearance would be changed beyond recognition.
As he started to make plans for his wedding to Karen Hunger four years ago, doctors discovered an aggressive tumour the size of a tennis ball growing beneath the skin of his face.
During the emergency surgery to remove the cancer, Mr Moger lost almost the entire left side of his face, including his eye, his cheek bone and most of his jaw, leaving a gaping hole where his features had once been.
Now, after years of having people stare and recoil at his disfigurement, surgeons have used pioneering three-dimensional printing technology to create a prosthetic face for Mr Moger, 60, in what is thought to be the first procedure of its kind in the UK.
By creating scans of what was left of his skull and using computers to recreate what his face would look like, they were able to use a new type of printer that builds up layer upon layer of nylon plastic to produce the exact components they would need.
It has transformed the father-of-two’s life, allowing him to drink his first glass of water and taste food for the first time since he underwent surgery to remove the tumour. Until now he has had to feed and drink through a tube directly into his stomach.
. . .
Dr Dawood used detailed scans to build up a 3D image of the bone left in Mr Moger’s skull and of his facial features.
Dr Dawood said: “We put the CT scan and facial scan together and used software to plan what we wanted him to look like.”
The scans allowed Dr Dawood to design a scaffold to replace the missing bone, creating from titanium using a technique known as 3D milling, where a piece of metal is ground into shape by a computer.
Screw-like rods around two inches long were also made in a similar way before being surgically implanted into the remaining bone on the right side of Mr Moger’s face, allowing the scaffold to be secured in place.
A plastic plate was also created using a printed model of Mr Moger’s skull to help form a seal at the top of his mouth, allowing him to eat and drink again.
Computer software allowed Dr Dawood to create a mirror image of the right hand side of the father-of-two’s face and using 3D printing he recreated a facial shell made of toughened nylon.
This was used to mould the new silicon mask that would cover the hole in Mr Moger’s face, using magnets so it can be secured in place and removed easily when Mr Moger goes to bed.
Dr Dawood now hopes to develop new techniques to allow them to print the silicon mask, which would help speed up the process and allow patients to have access to replacements rapidly.
There's more at the link, including photographs of Mr. Moger before his tumor, after it was removed, and wearing his new prosthetic face. They're disturbing to look at, but provide hope that others in his position may be able to benefit as well.
Several of my friends and acquaintances suffered grievous facial injuries during combat operations in Africa, or during South Africa's prolonged civil unrest from 1976-1994. At the time, there was almost nothing that could be done except to remove the damaged bone and tissue, and try to reshape what was left into something that was, at least, not quite so visually revolting. That's why this news is so interesting to me. I can see how this technology might literally change lives.
Congratulations to all involved, and I hope they go from strength to strength in improving their technique and expanding its application.