U.S. Army is Researching 3D Printing & its Potential in Facial Reconstruction Surgery

There has been a tremendous amount of talk about the military utilizing 3D printing in a variety of ways. Earlier today we mentioned that the Australian Army was thoroughly investigating its potential, while there is no doubt that every branch of the U.S. Military is using 3D printing or plan on using it sometime in the near future.
Most of the uses we have talked about have to do with protecting soldiers, and giving them an advantage during battle, but for many soldiers it’s already too late for that. Here in the U.S., we are all too familiar with injuries which thousands of soldiers have experienced, both in Iraq and Afghanistan over the last decade. Although a majority of our forces have been pulled out of the most hostile areas, there are sure to be future conflicts which will continue to leave our men and women with major injuries.
Because of this, the Army is looking for ways which they can mend the wounds of the injured, allowing them to live as normal a life as possible after a terrible injury. In 2008 the Depatment of Defence developed the Armed Forces Institute of Regenerative Medicine, which has since funded several key studies into the use of 3D printing within the medical field, as well as provide information in regards to papers such as this one, pertaining to the topic of maxillofacial tissue engineering and reconstruction.
3D printed ear, finger bone and kidney scaffolds created by researchers at Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine
3D printed ear, finger bone and kidney scaffolds created by researchers at Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine
“There was an increasing need to deliver therapies for wounded warriors. We saw a spike in the severity of the trauma that these Soldiers were receiving. As we increased the quality of battle armor, the injuries they were surviving were that much more debilitating,” said Dr. Michael Romanko, who holds a doctorate in molecular medicine, and provides support for the Tissue Injury and Regenerative Medicine Project Management Office. “The scars that Soldiers develop as a result of burns constrict movement and disfigure them permanently. The initiative to restore high-quality skin that is elastic and complete with sweat glands, appropriate pigmentation and hair follicles is incredibly important.”
Researchers and the army are concentrating on three main areas of facial reconstruction surgery.  All three areas can utilize 3D printing to make recovery quicker, and return a patient’s face to as close to its pre-injury appearance as possible.
3D Printing Models to Quicken Surgery:
Researchers are 3D printing facial models of patients prior to surgery, in order to provide surgeons with a near perfect duplicate of a patient’s face. This allows them to visualize the defects, and prepare for a quicker, more mil-1accurate surgery.  There are also programs in place, where new incoming soldiers are 3D scanned prior to being assigned a mission.
“A customized titanium plate was configured using a 3D printing model of mandible as a template before surgery,” states the report titled ‘3D Printed Biomaterials for Maxillofacial Tissue Engineering and Reconstruction – A Review‘. “Using a 3D printed mandible model reduced the operation time by 1.5 – 2.5 hours and the shape precision of the reconstructed mandible was improved”
In addition, researchers are also investigating cranial models, which could cut complicated cranial surgery times down significantly, while providing for a more precise procedure, leading to far less a risk of complications.
3D Printed Facial Skin Regeneration:
Researchers have been able to 3D print custom facemasks of a patient’s face, out of a material called polycaprolactone (PCL). They then are able to generate skin over top of that custom mask by depositing a collagen-based wound matrix, allowing for the skin to grow in a pre-determined shape, producing a near perfect fit for the patient.
3D Printed Hard Tissue Repair and Regeneration:
One of the more significant parts of the face, when it comes to aesthetics is the bone structure and hard tissue within. Without a proper bone structure, soft tissues will recede, and a lack of shape will take their place. mil-3Reserachers were able to achieve significant progress in this area by 3D printing several different types of implants, and adhering them to the present bone structure of test animals. In many of these studies significant bone regeneration had taken place around the implants. Unlike that of bone autographing, where actual bone is grafted onto a patient, the synthetic 3D printed implants can lead to a shortened hospital stay, as well as the lack of donor site morbidity.
With 42% of all injuries that occur to Department of Defense service members being Craniomaxillofacial wounds, it is of utmost importance for researchers, spurred on by the Armed Forces Institute of Regenerative Medicine, to find affordable, safe and precise means for facial reconstructive surgeries.
Will the Military be the ones who ignite the advancement in 3D medical printing the most? Let us know your opinion on this story in the 3D printing/face surgery forum thread on 3DPB.com.
http://3dprint.com/8736/army-face-3d-printing/
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