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3-D Printing Produces Faux Post-Surgery Noses


“Most Plastic Surgeons that perform computer imaging for Rhinoplasty won’t guarantee results as imaged…It’s only to show a patient the possible change, so they can get an idea of what to expect, but it’s in no way a guarantee. So I can’t see 3-D printing to be beneficial. Unless someday technology allows us to print a biologically viable, compatible nose for the patient…And even then it would probably be used for patients that have had severe trauma or cancer, where the nose has been almost completely destroyed.”

— Dr. Slupchynskyj

Does 3-D printing play 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 tested the ability of 3-D printing to develop models of how patients’ noses will appear after Rhinoplasty.

The work is still in the early stages: The researchers haven’t produced 3-D models for any actual patients yet, but the technology is already impressing those who’ve cradled 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 feasible since the 1980s, but the technology has progressed enough to enable users to create objects made from materials such as rubber, plastics and metals. As far as medical applications, scientists are envisioning the development prosthetic body parts, although they haven’t actually produced tissue that could conceivably be transplanted into the body.

At the University of Pennsylvania, Tecce and colleagues Dr. Anthony Wilson and Dr. Scott Bartlett conceptualized models for Rhinoplasty while seeking 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.”

But there were huge setbacks, 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 produced models of real-life noses that people could hold in their hands. They also generated models of pseudo “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 can be expensive. And, he says, it’s important to keep in mind 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.”