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Reconstructive Surgery of the face is one of the most complicated tasks that a plastic surgeon can undertake, particularly reconstruction of the mid-face area. Not only is this area seen by everyone the patient encounters, making form especially important, but the bones in the face also play a role in eating, breathing, and talking.

Currently, one of the most common methods used to rebuild facial bones is to harvest bone from other areas of the body and reshape the tissue to closely mirror the small and often delicate bones found in the mid-face. Unfortunately, the original bones found in our faces are very different from the bones in our hips and shoulders that are often used for harvesting. This can lead to limitations of function and cause some cosmetic distortion.

Using Engineering Solutions for Medical Challenges

Researchers at University of Illinois and the Ohio State University Medical Center have been working on a new technique that may improve reconstructive surgery results for facial procedures. The team has been using a special technique that is typically used by structural engineers when designing buildings and vehicles. The technique, known as topology optimization, utilizes complex 3D imaging and computer software to plan what types of features a structure needs to work best. It takes into account shape, size, and function.

In the summer of 2010, the researchers announced that they had successfully created models for several different types of facial bone replacements. They’re next planned step was to use the models to develop scaffolds so that they could develop the replacement tissue that would be used in surgeries.

Although these techniques may still be a few years away from being implemented in operating rooms across the country, the potential to improve surgical techniques and patient results even further is definitely exciting.