3D printing gives rapid method to make facial prostheses following
27 October 2014
University of Miami researchers have developed a process to
manufacture facial prostheses in a matter of hours at a fraction of
the cost of a traditional prosthesis, using topographical scanning
and 3-D printing technology.
Patients are scanned on the undamaged side of their face using a
mobile scanner. The software then creates a mirror image. Along with
a scan of the side of the face with the orbital defect, the program
can mesh the two scans together to create a 3-D image of the face.
The topographical information then goes to a 3-D printer, which
translates the data into a mask formed out of injection-molded
rubber suffused with colored pigments matching the patient’s skin
The research was presented at the 118th annual meeting of the
American Academy of Ophthalmology last week.
Conventional facial prostheses can cost $10,000 to $15,000 and
take weeks to produce. Each one is created by an ocularist, an
artisan who makes a mold of the face, casts it using rubber and then
adds the final touches such as skin color and individual eyelashes.
Patients and their families often have to pay out-of-pocket for
facial prostheses because health insurance oftentimes will not cover
In the United States, more than 2,700 new cases of eye cancer are
diagnosed each year, according to the American Cancer Society, and
the mortality rate is high for the disease. Some patients undergo a
life-saving surgery known as exenteration that involves removing the
contents of the eye socket and other tissue. The research team hopes
to bring these patients relief by providing a more affordable facial
prosthesis that will allow them to live their lives more fully and
with less stigma.
The 3D printing project started as the brainchild of David Tse,
MD, professor of ophthalmology at the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute in
Florida and the Nasser Ibrahim Al-Rashid chair in ophthalmic
plastic, orbital surgery and oncology. Dr. Tse was treating a child
with eye cancer who had both eyelids removed and underwent
exenteration. The family could not afford an ocularist, so Dr. Tse
raised donations to help pay for her first prosthesis. Now a
teenager, she has grown out of the prosthesis and must instead wear
an eye patch.
“Hopefully, using this quick and less expensive 3-D printing
process, we can make an affordable facial prosthesis for her and
also help thousands of other people like her who lack the resources
to obtain one through an ocularist,” said Dr. Tse.
Designed and developed in partnership with Dr. Tse and a team at
the Composite Materials Lab at the University of Miami, the 3-D
printed prosthesis possesses several advantages over the
conventional type created by an ocularist. The material involves a
proprietary mix of nanoparticles that provides extra reinforcement
and makes it possible to match many shades of skin. Over time,
conventional facial prostheses can discolour and fray at the edges,
but nanoclay protects the material from breaking down and changing
colour when exposed to moisture and light. It also prevents dirt
from depositing. If the prosthesis ever needs to be replaced,
reproduction can happen with the press of a button.
“Once we have a patient scanned, we have the mould, so we can
create a new prosthesis in no time,” said Landon Grace, PhD,
director of the lab and an assistant professor of mechanical and
aerospace engineering. “Our long-term goal is to help patients
anywhere in the world. We could get a mobile scan, download the data
in Miami, print out the prosthesis and ship it back to the patient
the next day.”