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Additive manufacturing used in 'life changing' operation

Surgeons at Morriston Hospital in Swansea, Wales, have successfully repaired a man’s cheek bone and eye socket, which were damaged during a motorcycle crash, using additive manufacturing. By taking a CT scan of Stephen Power's head, the team was able to create a 3D model and accurately build a piece that would hold Power's facial bones in the correct place.

The team was a collaboration of members of Centre of Applied Reconstructive Technologies in Surgery (Cartis), the Surgical and Prosthetic Design team at PDR, Cardiff Metropolitan University, and the MaxilloFacial Unit at the hospital. It comprised surgeons, design engineers and prosthetics experts.

The CT scan was used to mirror the unaffected side of Power's face on the other; this allowed the team to design guides that allowed them to cut and position the bones, as well as being the perfect fit for the patient. The parts were manufactured by a Belgian company, and the surgical cutting and the cobalt chrome alloy placement guides were produced on a Renishaw machine. Renishaw is the only UK company to process metal for additive manufacturing purposes.

Additive manufacturing, which uses lasers to melt metal powders, has been used in certain aspects of medicine before now, but its frequency is becoming ever higher. The ability to match a part accurately to a CT scan is increasing the success and quality of implant operations. The surgeons also said that this process of manufacturing allows for a much higher degree of accuracy and involved much less guesswork than previous surgeries.

Power had been motorcycling when he was involved in an accident in Llantwit Major, near Cardiff. He suffered severe injuries to his head and face, broke both arms, and his right leg required a bone graft. After initial emergency operations, discussions had started on how to improve Power's quality of life after the treatment. He told BBC Wales that after this operation he won't have to hide away and can return to doing 'normal' things.

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