Cutting-edge 3D printing technology is being used to recreate the severely injured face of a road accident victim.
A team of British surgeons are poised to carry out a pioneering operation which will restore the symmetry of a man's face – using new parts produced through additive manufacturing, commonly known as 3D printing.
The unaffected side of the biker's face has been used to create a mirror image using computer design software, which will be used both to design guides to cut and position facial bones with pinpoint accuracy but also to create tailor-made titanium implants for the patient.
Surgeons in Swansea, south Wales, used an X-ray CT scan to create minutely detailed three-dimensional images to design the bespoke guides and implants, which are being produced in medical-grade titanium at one of the world's few specialist 3D printing facilities in Belgium.
The futuristic work is led by consultant maxillofacial surgeon Adrian Sugar, at Morriston Hospital, Swansea, run by Abertawe Bro Morgannwg University Health Board.
Peter Evans, a reconstructive scientist and Maxillofacial Laboratory Services manager, said: "The patient suffered trauma and had multiple injuries across his body, including some quite severe facial injuries.
"He underwent emergency surgery at the time and we are now at the stage where we can do a proper reconstruction of his face."
The project is the work of the Centre of Applied Reconstructive Technologies in Surgery (Cartis), established in 2006 as a partnership between Morriston Hospital's Maxillofacial Unit and Product Design and Research (PDR) based at Cardiff Metropolitan University.
Cartis aims to make Wales a world leader in the research, development and application of advanced medical technologies in surgery.
Sugar and Evans worked with PDR's Sean Peel and Ffion O'Malley to virtually plan the complex surgery, which will involve repositioning the patient's facial bones.
Evans added: "We have done everything up to the point of surgery. The concept of the operation has been virtually designed and we hope to do the work very soon. The patient's facial symmetry will be restored so he should be back to normal as far as his facial looks are concerned."
Discussions are now taking place to plan when the surgery itself will take place. The identity of the patient concerned has not been revealed.
The work is considered so ground-breaking and radical it already features in an exhibition at London's Science Museum – before the operation itself has been carried out.
Evans added: "The exhibition is all about cutting-edge activities in this area of work so to have this case appear there is amazing."