Adrian Sugar (seated second from left) and his surgical team during the facial rebuild operation at Morriston Hospital. The team reconstructed 29-year-old Stephen Power's face using models and implants from a 3D printer.
In a landmark procedure, surgeons used 3D printing techniques to restore a patient's facial likeness after a horrific injury
ews coverage of advances in 3D printing tends to play up fun applications of the technology—musical instruments, fashionable clothes and tasty treats—or ideas that stretch the imagination, like 3D printed houses and cars.
While it might not be as flashy, additive manufacturing has been quietly revolutionizing the medical field, and the lives of patients with debilitating conditions. Its most recent champion: Stephen Power, a 29-year-old man from Wales who has a new face thanks to an innovative surgical technique that incorporates 3D scanning and printing.
In 2012, Power had a horrific motorcyle accident. Though he was wearing a helmet, the impact fractured his upper jaw, cheek bones, nose and skull. Power was rushed to Morriston Hospital in Swansea for a series of emergency procedures that managed to repair most—but not all—of his injuries.
"We fixed his facial fractures pretty well but he had damaged his left eye and the ophthalmologists did not want us to do anything that might damage his sight further," Adrian Sugar, a maxillofacial surgeon, said in a press release. "So the result was that his cheekbone was too far out and his eye was sunk in and dropped."
It would be several months before doctors began planning reconstructive surgery to restore symmetry to Power's face. Using the conventional process, a surgeon would typically practice on a rough model of a patient's face built from off-the-shelf parts. Surprisingly, the process is as inexact as it sounds, with the specialist mapping out each step using what Sean Peel, a prosthetics designer at the National Centre for Product Design and Development Research (PDR) at Cardiff Metropolitan University, describes as "visual judgments and crude measurements.”