3D Printing is Giving a New FACE to Prosthetics!

Various face parts scientists have been able to 3D print
Various face parts scientists have been able to 3D print

The technique of 3D printing body parts, also popularly called as bioprinting, was developed about 20 years ago when surgeon Anthony Atala with his team, at the Boston Children’s Hospital, were trying to harvest cells obtained from their patient and layering them to prepare a scaffold type of a structure; wherein, cells could grow and reproduce, subsequently producing functional tissues such as cartilage, skin etc. Dr. Atala is still actively involved in developing technology for Just-In-Time production of human tissue, at the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine, USA. This blog post provides details on how 3D printing is giving a new FACE to prosthetics and which are the face parts scientists were able to produce using the technique of 3D printing.

Dr. Anthony Atala speaking at the inaugural session of WIPO Forum 2013 Brings Together Game-Changing Innovators (Image source: flickr)
Dr. Anthony Atala speaking at the inaugural session of WIPO Forum 2013 Brings Together Game-Changing Innovators (Image source: flickr)

Publication numbers in the field of 3D Printing (Image source: maxval)
Publication numbers in the field of 3D Printing (Image source: maxval)

It can be seen from the year-wise number of publications in the area of 3D printing that exponential growth was from the year 2014-2015; wherein, after aerospace and defence, and industrial manufacturing, healthcare is the largest publisher.

Below are some examples of how 3D printing is giving new FACE to prosthetics!

3D Printed Artificial Cornea

  • May 2018: Che Connon, Professor of Tissue Engineering at Newcastle University, and his students Mr. Isaacson A and Swioklo S, first reported 3D printing of human cornea using gel prepared from combination of alginate and collagen containing stem. The technique can produce customized corneas as per the shape and size of the patient. This technology will prove to be a boon to people who lost their corneas due to abrasion, laceration, burns or disease.
  • May 2019: Collaboration work of mechanical engineers, IT engineers and medical professionals of Pohang University of Science & Technology and Kyungpook National University School of Medicine paved path for the 3D printed corneal stroma and stem cells along with collagen fibrils. They created transparent corena similar to that of original human cornea, attributed to the control of stress and thus specific control on the lattice pattern of the collagen fibril.
  • Jan 2021: Worlds first successful cornea transparent was performed on a 78 year Israel person (Mr. Jamal Furani) by group of doctors from Beilinson Hospital in collaboration with an Israeli startup – CorNeat. 78-year-old got his vision after 10 years of blindness.

Great to know that this year world’s first human corneal replacement was performed using 3D printing technology. Hoping to see many such surgeries in future. Happy to see polymers giving vision to blind people.

Prof. Che Connon & Mr. Jamal Furani
Prof. Che Connon & Mr. Jamal Furani (Image Source: Check references)


  • Oct 2020: Group of researchers, lead by Dr. Efren Andablo-Reyes, from University of Leeds and University of Edinburgh replicated the surface of the tongue using silicone impressions from 15 adults and randomly distributing fungiform and filiform papillae-like asperities, which was 3D printed using digital light processing technology. The biomimetic tongue demonstrated similar level of surface wettability and lubrication as that of natural tongue. Polymer used to mimic the tongue surface was Ecoflex 00-30, with and without Span 80 surfactant.

This is a very interesting research work in the usage of 3D printing technology to make human tongue. What do you think, can polymers be able to mimic the complex function of a tongue? Matching physical parameters such as wetness and lubrication is quite possible with a proper formulation; but, can it any day mimic the complex movements it does in the mouth which helps make various sounds? Also, can it be able to determine taste as vividly as that of a real tongue?

It seems like a long way to go; however, the expedition has started!

Dr. Efren Andablo-Reyes and 3D Printed tongue
Dr. Efren Andablo-Reyes and 3D Printed tongue (Image Source: Check references)

3D Printed Ear

  • Feb 2018: As per the research paper published in EBioMedicine journal, group of scientists from Shanghai Jiao Tong University School of Medicine and Chinese Academy of Medical Science, recruited 5 microtia affected children. Scientists then prepared replica of the normal ear using 3D printer and added with children’s cartilage cells.
  • Jun 2020: Team of surgeons from Naples (Italy), Santobono-Pausillipon pediatric hospital, performed complex surgery on a girl suffering from aural atresia; wherein, they implanted a 3D printed custom made middle ear temporal bone.
  • Jan 2021: Grace Smart, a 10-year-old resident of Queensland, born with microtia, was implanted with a new ear taking about 12 hours of procedural time.
  • May 2021: 6-year-old Mattie Cliburn, from USA, underwent a surgery wherein she received a 3D printed ear, which was prepared using 3D model of her other ear. The surgery was performed by Los Angeles first plastic surgeon Dr. Sheryl Lewin, and took about 9 hrs to complete.
  • Jun 2021: Harvard University’s Wyss Institute has applied for FDA approval for its product named ‘PhonoGraft’; a 3D printed device, which would be helping healing of the damaged eardrums.
  • Jul 2021: A case to that of Grace Smart, a 9-year-old boy was implanted with 3D printed ear at China’s Shanghai Ninth People’s Hospital.

It seems that lot of research is underway in the arena of 3D printed ears and its allied branches. Great to hear that!

Mattie Cliburn and Grace Smart (Image Source: See references)
Mattie Cliburn and Grace Smart (Image Source: Check references)

3D Printed Nose

  • Jan 2016: Team of doctors lead by Dr. Tal Dagan at New York Eye and Ear Infirmary of Mount Sinai, New York, performed US’s first successful nose transplant surgery using 3D printing technology, on a 14 year old boy named Jennet. Jennet’s face got disfigured, at the age of 9, when he accidently fell on a live power line.
  • Scientists from University of Alberta, utilizing 3D printing, devised a technique to manufacture custom shape nose cartilage. This would avoid the procedure of taking out cartilage from ribs or any other part of the body. In the technique human nose cartilage cells were mixed with collagen based hydrogel. The research was co-lead by Dr. Adetola Adesida, professor of surgery at University of Alberta.

It’s enlightening to read all these miraculous things 3D printing is able to do!

Jennet and Prof. Adetola Adesida (Image source: See references)
Jennet and Prof. Adetola Adesida (Image Source: Check references)

3D Printed Scalp

  • Jul 2018: An Italian 3D printing company – Cesare Ragazzi Laboratories, developed a CNC hair system; which is then fitted on the 3D printed second scalp, made from biopolymer. 3D printed second scalp would counter-shape the bumps, ridges and scars of the person’s primary scalp. This technique was used on Ms. Patty Robinson, a resident of Cleveland, who lost her hair and majority of scalp in an accident wherein her hair got caught in the tractors machinery.
  • Hasan and his co-researchers at Columbia University have developed a methodology to 3D print human scalp having projections which allowed hair follicle cells and keratin producing cells to grow. In about 3 weeks’ hair started growing from the 3D printed scalp.

This is so interesting! They can even produce eyebrows, moustache and beard one day!

Patty Robinson (Image source: See references)
Patty Robinson (Image Source: Check references)

3D Printing for Jaw Reconstruction

  • Feb 2012: Team of scientists from Belgium and Netherlands, in collaboration with Xilloc – a metal additive manufacturer, replaced the lower jaw of an 83-year-old women which was infected by osteomyelitis. It is claimed to be the world’s first jaw replacement surgery with 3D printed material.
  • Oct 2017: A team of surgeons from the Swansea’s Morriston Hospital replaced the cancer affected jaw of Ms. Debbie Hawkins using customised 3D printed titanium implants.
  • Feb 2020: Mr. Prabhjeet, resident of Faridabad, Delhi, lost right half of his jaw bone due to oral cancer. Doctors of Fortis hospital used 3D printed titanium metal customised jaw made by an UK firm named Renishaw, to fill in for the lost jaw, about 9 months ago.
  • Even AIIMs, Delhi had last year in a press conference announced collaboration with foreign 3D printers to make cheaper jaw replacements using 3D printed parts; project being funded by the Rashtriya Arogya Nidhi (RAN) scheme.

I am really looking ahead for replacement of the titanium metal by high quality plastic in the jaw replacement. What do you think, why has it not happened yet? If happened, can you let me know any patients in which the plastic jaw implants were done?

Ms. Debbie Hawkins and Mr. Prabhjeet (image source: See references)
Ms. Debbie Hawkins and Mr. Prabhjeet (Image Source: Check references)

Dear Readers, do go through the above content on how 3D printing is giving a new FACE to prosthetics and let me know your viewpoints in the Comments section.

Thanks for reading!

I put up a new post whenever I come across an interesting topic, so follow my blog and stay updated about the developments in the polymer industry.


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