3-D printing technology gives us hope that one day, we can make our own makeup, tools or even sex toys. But its use in medicine —specifically for face transplants —  takes the cake for most awe-inspiring functionality.Researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston (where the country’s first full-face transplant was performed in 2011) are now using CT scans and 3-D printing to recreate life-size models of patients’ heads to optimize transplantation planning and surgeries. They presented their findings from clinical trials done in real-life transplant patients at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) this week.But why use a 3-D printer at all? For such a complex surgery (they can last as long as 25 hours!), proper planning is essential. By using 3-D printed skulls of the patient, doctors at the hospital felt more fully prepared for the procedure.

RSNAA 3-D print model used in surgical planning

The customized model is even more helpful for patients whose bones need to be modified before the transplantation. “The 3-D printed model helps us to prepare the facial structures so when the actual transplantation occurs, the surgery goes more smoothly,” said research fellow Amir Imanzadeh, M.D. And it can give patients a better outcome aesthetically — since bone defects or problems can be addressed ahead of time, problems during the transplantation are limited and the amount of time blood flow must be stopped to rewire the vascular connections is reduced, which improves patient outcomes.Most of all, 3-D models of the exact patient’s head helps surgeons do their jobs better: “The ability to work with the model gives you an unprecedented level of reassurance and confidence in the procedure,” said Frank J. Rybicki, M.D., radiologist and director of the hospital’s Applied Imaging Science Laboratory. “You can spin, rotate and scroll through as many CT images as you want but there’s no substitute for having the real thing in your hand.”Full-face transplants aren’t your everyday, routine surgical procedures. But the better technology that becomes available, the easier it will be for surgeons to perform these life-changing surgeries successfully. See, technology isn’t all bad for us after all.Related Articles:The Next Organ Donor Might Be a 3-D PrinterIs It Safe to Use Botox to Stop Excessive Sweating?