Reporting Dr. Maria Simbra
PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – It looks like something out of a science-fiction movie or a spy thriller. But, some new technology is being developed to help with face transplants.
“We’ve gone to our big brothers in Hollywood and said, ‘Hey, if they get all the cool toys, why can’t we have some of them too?’” UPMC plastic surgery resident Dr. Darren Smith said.
It’s actually technology a local doctor is developing to help with face transplants.
People born with facial deformities, people who have had large cancers removed from their head, face, or neck and people with facial trauma may need a face transplant.
The idea with the device is to image the recipient in order to figure out what facial structure the ideal donor would have.
“Everybody’s different on the inside just as they are on the outside,” Dr. Smith said.
A special camera takes an image from three angles at the same time and much like radar, it generates a three-dimensional image.
The 3D image can be flipped and manipulated and combined with other kinds of scans such as CT scans for the bones and angiograms for the blood vessels.
“There are often times when just to plan a surgery, in a realistic sense, it would be nice to look at those things all at once,” Dr. Smith said.
To be able to hook up nerves and blood vessels, the doctors need to know what they have to work with, and what obstacles the bones and tissues would pose when the donor and recipient are put together.
“So here, we can actually rehearse this in advance with precise depictions of the actual patient,” Dr. Smith said.
Of course, this hasn’t been tried in reality.
Only 18 face transplants have been performed worldwide and none of those were done in Pittsburgh.
While not perfect, the results elsewhere are encouraging.
“So to date, the outcomes have been very promising with respect to function, eating, smelling, breathing, and certainly appearance, than we could ever get with conventional reconstructive surgery,” UPMC plastic surgeon Dr. Joseph Losee said.
The technology might also have practical applications for something far more common such as reconstruction after facial trauma.