How 3D technology is revolutionizing face transplants

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From modeling to printing, it’s all about seeing inside someone’s head.

Face transplants are an ideal setting to fuse medicine with the growing world of 3D printing and imaging. The left image is a rendering of what face transplant recipient Cameron Underwood’s face looked like before his surgery; the right is a planned rendering based on the donor’s face.

Cameron Underwood received a new face on January 6, 2018. By the time his surgery ended, everything below Underwood’s eye sockets had been replaced with the face of organ donor William Fisher.

A face transplant is exactly what it sounds like—replacing the disfigured face of one person with the whole, undamaged face of a very recently deceased person. Eduardo Rodriguez, plastic surgeon and face transplant specialist at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York who performed surgery on Underwood, insists this surgery is a way to give these patients “a second chance at life.” Without a new face, patients like Underwood have great difficulty speaking, swallowing, eating, expressing themselves, as well as all the other things we do with our faces that we never think twice about.

A physician in France performed the first successful face transplant surgery in 2005. Since then, only 40 other such surgeries have been done around the world. Rodriguez has performed three of those surgeries, including Underwood’s.

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