For the Living, a Donated Face. For the Dead, a Lifelike Replacement.

THE NEW YORK TIMES | Andy Newman, Marc Santora
Doctors at New York University have developed a 3-D printed mask for use on a face-transplant donor.Credit Vincent Tullo for The New York Times
Most medical advances benefit the living.

This one is for the dead.

Sometime in the coming weeks or months, a brain-dead person, probably a man, will be wheeled into the plastic surgery department at NYU Langone Medical Center in Manhattan. A technician will slowly run a scanner over his face, recording the tiniest contour and detail.

Then surgeons will cut off the dying person’s face and attach it to a disfigured man who has been waiting for a face transplant since last summer.

And downtown from the hospital, in a basement below what could easily be confused with a Kinko’s, a team of New York University 3-D printing experts will work their own magic. They aim to generate a replica of the donor’s scanned face so lifelike — or perhaps more accurately, deathlike — that his family members will feel comfortable using it for their loved one’s burial, even in an open coffin.

Up till now, the best that medicine could offer a donor as a replacement face was a silicone mask cast from a mold, with features painted on. Continue reading

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