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Metals in Medicine

In 2012, a serious motorcycle accident near Cardiff, Wales broke Stephen Power’s jaw, nose, skull and cheekbones – injuries that could have been even worse were it not for his crash helmet. The injured biker was immediately rushed to Morriston Hospital in Swansea, where he would remain for almost 4 months as medical teams sought to repair the damage to his skull.

Though the surgeons were able to address many of Mr Power’s injuries during that period, the trauma to his left eye socket – so serious that ophthalmologists feared he would lose sight in that eye – presented a particularly complex surgical challenge. Reconstructing an eye socket involves cutting and reshaping very thin sections of bone, working in close proximity to soft eye tissue, and this carries significant risks. The team’s solution was to draw upon state-of-the-art 3D printing technology, working with prosthetic design engineers from Cardiff Metropolitan University to create custom titanium implants.

First, detailed medical scans were used to create a 3D model of Mr Power’s face. The engineers then used these models to design highly accurate implants that could be manufactured using a 3D printer. Fitting the new implants took surgeons around 8 hours, but at last Mr Power’s facial reconstruction was complete.

Mr Power is reported to be recovering well from the procedure and has commented that his life has been transformed. The next challenge for design engineers and surgeons is to find ways to reduce the costs of 3D printing, so as to encourage wider use of the technology in surgical units around the world.