The past and future of cosmetic surgery: Facial reconstructive surgery originated out of necessity after the First World War, as many veterans returned home with deforming battle scars.
At first, surgeons with little knowledge or specialist skills were forced to simply sew together jagged shrapnel wounds leaving a painful healing process which often left patients little better off. Photographs of veterans from that time show many wearing clay masks to hide gaping holes and broken faces, similar to the famous mask of the main character in Phantom of the Opera.
This early experimentation in the field lead to the rapid evolution of specialist reconstructive plastic surgery.
Today in 2022, maxillofacial reconstruction has come a long way together with innovative technology. A new technique has recently been successfully tested using 3D printing tech to create new facial features for cancer patients. Using cells and organic material from patients, doctors have been able to print cartilage and create nose structures. interestingly the possibility of using such techniques was researched many years ago, yet technology and investment needed time to catch up.
Patient zero recipient was a fifty year old woman, who had most of her nose removed after surgery to remove nasal cancer. When doctors first performed surgery by removing her nose, they took her genetic material and then 3D printed a new nose exactly replicating the shape of her original feature. At the time of surgery, it was not yet possible to complete an implant and so the new nose was preserved on ice until it was possible to proceed to a human trial.
Doctors then proceeded to implant the nose into her inner arm, where the graft was connected to her blood stream. There was a minimal chance of rejection, as the nose exactly matched her tissue type. The blood vessels brought in nutrients to allow flesh and cartilage to grow around the shape of the nose, which took two months to fully develop.
This technology has the potential to revolutionise surgical interventions. Eventually new organs or complex structures like the eye or bone could be harvested inside the body. There is even the possibility that new limbs could be formed with this technique over longer periods of time.
This field of medical innovation fascinates me. It is one of the reasons I am keen to enter this side of medicine – surgical skill combined with cutting edge technology for a vastly improved outcome for people who have been injured or impaired by infection.
One hundred years ago, this technology would have seemed an impossible miracle to the suffering soldiers of the First World War; just imagine what could happen in the next one hundred years.