How 3D Printing Could One Day Improve Your Profile Picture

By Devon Glenn 

Advancements in 3D printing are revolutionizing reconstructive surgery. At the Inside 3D Printing Conference and Expo in New York City today, two industry experts showed how surgeons can use the technology to rebuild jaws and ears, and even separate conjoined twins.

Lawrence Bonassar, associate professor for the department of biomedical engineering at Cornell said that his “grand vision for this technology” would be to reduce the cost for medical imaging so that doctors can take pictures of healthy patients that can be stored and used at the time of injury. (Think of it as a profile pic for your doctor.)

Slides in the demonstration showed how issues, cartilage, and bones can be replicated using imaging data from MRI or CT scans and synthetic materials.

Synthetic implants tend to fail from wear, fatigue, and incompatibility with the body, explained Bonassar. But “customization for medical implants is a benefit of 3D printing,” he said.

“Cranofacial skeletons are very unique,” added Andy Christensen, president of Medical Modeling, Inc. If you have an injury to the face or head, “You’re going to want to be put back together in a way that makes you look good,” he said.

One amazing use the presenters demonstrated was how to recreate cartilage for Goldenhar Syndrome patients, who are often born missing an ear. Accident victims could also benefit from the technology. In one case, doctors successfully rebuilt a partial skull for a man with a severe injury to his head. In another case, surgery for a woman whose jaw was ravaged by cancer restored all function and symmetry to her face and teeth.