Wednesday, November 30, 2011

3D virtual skull makes face transplants more accurate

Face transplants are tricky surgeries to pull off since most patients have altered anatomy due to extreme injuries. But now a new 3D virtual skull should help by allowing doctors to better visualise the procedure beforehand (see video above).
The technique, developed by plastic surgeon Darren Smith from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, builds up a virtual model of a patient's head from various Computed Tomography (CT) and MRI scans. This creates a series of layers that can be added or removed, helping surgeons to understand the relationship between different facial structures. In this video, bones are shown in purple, major blood vessels are denoted in red, muscles are in green and nerves are marked in blue. Skin images of the donor and recipient are captured by laser scanning or stereophotogrammetry and overlayed on top.
Previously, scans were used to create bespoke physical models of a patient from plastic or plaster. Although it allowed for the visualisation of a facial structure, it was hard to accurately plan a surgery since different layers couldn't be peeled away.
"A CT scan can show you that the bone fits together but with this model you can look at blood vessels at the same time," Smith says. "If you put the bones together so that they fit, you might see that the blood vessels won't line up the way you want them to."
According to Smith, in the time it takes to find a face donor and harvest the organ, the surgeon could already have simulated the operation and practiced the steps using the model.
"It's the closest you can get to holding [their head] in your hands," he says.
The technique will be presented this week at the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) annual meeting in Chicago.
For more medical simulations, check out personalised organ models that could be used to create your virtual twin or take a look at the world through a bionic eye.

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