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    3D printing creates 'mock' post-surgery noses

    Does 3-D printing have a role in plastic surgery? The answer may be as plain as the nose on your (patient’s) face.

    At the University of Pennsylvania, researchers have testing the ability of 3-D printing to produce models of how patients’ noses will look after rhinoplasty. 

    The work is still in the early stages: The researchers haven’t produced 3-D models for any actual patients. But the technology is already wowing those who’ve been able to hold models of their own noses in their hands. 

    “For the patients who had the imaging done and their models created, they love them!” says Michael Tecce, BS, a clinical research fellow with the Division of Plastic Surgery at the University of Pennsylvania. “Some say, ‘Wow, so that’s what my nose looks like?’ It’s interesting to see people’s reactions to what they perceive in the mirror versus holding the model and seeing what other people see.”

    Three-dimensional printing — the production of 3-D objects — has been around since the 1980s, but the technology has advanced far enough to allow users to create objects made of materials like rubber, plastics and metals. On the medical front, scientists are dreaming of creating prosthetic body parts, although they haven’t been able to actually produce tissue that could be transplanted into the body. 

    At the University of Pennsylvania, Tecce and colleagues Dr. Anthony Wilson and Dr. Scott Bartlett came up with the idea of models for rhinoplasty while developing a way to use 3-D printing in craniofacial surgery. “We thought, ‘Hey, what if we printed a pre-operative and simulated a post-operative result for a nose?’” Tecce tells Cosmetic Surgery Times. “That way the patient could hold a model of what their nose would potentially look like after surgery. At that point, you could make any adjustments and speak with the patient in order to optimize their experience.”

    Related: Practice changer: 3D printing for consults

    But there were big hurdles, says Tecce, who made a presentation about his research in April at The Aesthetic Meeting, the annual gathering of the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery. “Perhaps the most significant was figuring out the best way to print the models.”

    As he explains, “The 3-D camera takes a surface image of the entire face. Then, we isolate the nose by manipulating the image.” 

    However, “The image is only a surface area scan. So it has no depth to it and is unable to be printed unless we give it more of a spacial mass. Figuring out how to do that was challenging.”

    With the help of the Vectra imaging system, Materialise 3-matic software and a Stratasys 3-D printer, Tecce and colleagues were able to create models of real-life noses that people could hold in their hands. They also created models of mock “post-surgery” noses. 

    Why not try out the technology on actual patients to see if the models accurately reflect “before” and “after”? “This is a proof of concept study,” Tecce says. “So we have yet to test it on subjects who actually undergo surgery.”

    In case you’re thinking about trying this at your own office, Tecce notes that 3-D printing software and printers are expensive. And, he says, it’s important to remember that 3-D models of post-surgery noses aren’t real-life post-surgery noses. “You might not get the result that matches the model perfectly,” he says. “It’s just the way it is.”

    Randy Dotinga
    Randy Dotinga is a medical writer based in San Diego, Calif.

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