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Summary: Plastic and cosmetic surgery is always looking for new technology and innovating new techniques. Recently, the FDA approved the use of an example of each: a 3D printer. Using a technique called Osteofab, this 3D printer created a unique, personalized facial implant for a patient. This implant is an exciting development on its own, but doubly so because it won’t be long before we see more of these individualized implants, both for cosmetic and reconstructive purposes.

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A New Technology

If you’ve never heard of a 3D printer before, this just might blow your mind. Heck, it might blow your mind anyway. A 3D printer is, in principle, a lot like a regular old printer, except instead of using ink and paper, a 3D printer will use plastic, metal, or even organic components, and build a three dimensional object one very thin layer at a time. It’s a remarkable technology used to “print” everything from bicycles to ears.

Coming to Plastic Surgery

And now 3D printing is making its way to plastic surgery. Recently the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved an individualized facial implant for use in plastic surgery. The company to which the FDA granted approval, Oxford Performance Materials, uses a process they call Osteofab to construct the implant from CT and MRI scans of the patient. Rather than a factory-created, one-size fits all implant, the patient enjoys the same sophistication of quality, but in something that is individualized for his or her unique physiology.

Wave of the Future?

Three-dimensional printing is likely the wave of the future in plastic and cosmetic surgery, even if it’s a technology that is making what looks more like a slow creep into the field. But once FDA approval, cost, and other factors align, the innovation possible is astounding. Not only could plastic surgeons one day print a breast implant that is the perfect size you want, but they almost might be able to print an implant that works well with your body frame and fits perfectly into your chest.

In other words, it’s not just about individualized results, it’s about tailoring each implant to fit with each individual patient.

A Long Way to Go, but the Future is Bright

Of course, there’s a long way to go before you see 3D printing at your local, say, New Jersey plastic surgeon, and lot of FDA testing to get through. As with any new technology, there’s concern about the process and the safety of the materials, especially over time. Modern day silicone breast implants, for example, are incredibly safe—so safe that even if the implant ruptures, it’s very likely you’d never know it and never experience any discomfort. It may be a while before 3-d printed implants can offer that kind of robust safety record.

But keep an eye out. Three-dimensional printing is just over the horizon, and we can’t wait for it to get here.

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