Carlito Conceiao from Brazil suffered from upper maxillary carcinoma in 2008 which damaged his throat and destroyed facial tissues on the right side of his face.

He underwent an operation but it cost him his right eye socket and part of his nose. It left a huge gaping hole in his cheek.

“I lost all my confidence and fell into a deep depression,” said Conceiao, who is married with two children.

After his surgery, Conceiao had used a prosthesis which he felt was of poor quality.

As it turns out, a smartphone together with a low-cost printer is all it took to restore his much-needed confidence.

Smartphone used to digitally sculpt silicone prosthesis

His breakthrough came in February this year when he was offered the pioneering procedure, which uses a smartphone for photogrammetry and a printer to build and print a 3D image of the missing part of his face.

Dr. Rodrigo Salazar, a Peruvian dentist and specialist in oral rehabilitation, has been working on the project for two years. Using a free app, Autodesk 123D Catch, the dentist snapped 15 photos of the trauma area with his smartphone. The photos were uploaded and converted into a virtual model of Conceiao's face. The prototype of the patient's face was then created on a low-cost printer.

Dr Salazar said, "We mirrored the healthy side of Conceiao's face and then digitally sculpted it to fit the trauma side."

This mould was used to create the new silicone prosthesis for Conceiao, where volunteer clinical artists did the hand-finishing touches to make it look natural. To fit the facial prosthetic, magnets were used to lock onto three titanium screws embedded under his eyebrow. The entire procedure took less than 20 hours.

“I was so impressed by the result of the new one,” Conceiao said. “I cried when they fitted it.”

A cheaper alternative that is just as effective

Dr. Salazar believes that this cutting-edge procedure offers a low-cost alternative, and produces the same results as “prostheses produced on state-of-the-art equipment that costs hundreds of thousands of pounds.”

Dr Luciano Dib, a maxillofacial surgeon who is involved in the project, performed the two-hour osseo-integration operation.

He said, "This is a well-established procedure for anchoring cranio-facial prostheses. It means wearers can confidently go to the beach, take a shower, go to the gym and run without fear of the prosthesis falling off. And they can take it off at night to clean it."

Another team member, Rosemary Seelaus, anaplastologist at the University of Illinois Hospital of Health Sciences System in Chicago said,”Head and neck cancer is a huge public health issue around the world and many people don't have access to rehabilitative care when the disease mutilates the face."

According to a 2014 research conducted by the Union of International Cancer Control, there are more than 550,000 cases of head and neck cancer with around 300,000 deaths every year.

Prior to this novel use of the smartphone which speeds and simplifies the process, researchers from the University of Miami have used facial scanning software and 3D printing to make facial prostheses for eye-cancer patients. Compared to traditional prosthetics, 3D printing has enabled more affordable and flexible custom masks to cover hollow eye sockets resulting from eye surgery following cancer or congenital deformities. MIMS

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