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22 August 2006 PR 06/95

Charities welcome revolutionary new treatment to correct facial disfigurement

A life-changing new technique to rebuild the faces of people disfigured by disease or injury has been praised by an international charity, who say it will bring patients a ‘restored quality of life’.

The Loughborough University-led project will mean the creation of custom-made facial implants for individual patients, including those who have suffered from oral cancer, bone disease, congenital defects and traumatic injuries.

Implants to replace damaged facial bone will be made using ‘selective laser sintering’ - a revolutionary, ‘rapid manufacturing’ process that utilises lasers rather than traditional factory tools and methods.

The £238,000 project is a partnership between Loughborough University, biomaterials experts, healthcare professionals, and patient groups, representing those who have experienced facial disfigurement. It is funded by the Department of Health’s ‘New and Emerging Applications of Technology’ (NEAT) programme.

Researchers at Loughborough have developed a completely bespoke manufacturing system to investigate the generation of implants, which are built layer-by-layer using lasers to fuse together particles of powder.

Dr Russell Harris, who is based in the University’s Wolfson School of Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering, is the Principal Investigator of the research. He said: “We are currently looking at creating a structure which encourages the ingrowth of natural bone. By doing this, we can improve the fixation of the implant into the body.

“It is hoped that the new implants will be a significant improvement on present treatments as they will be patient-specific in both shape and performance and will not be constrained by the economics of conventional manufacturing techniques.”

The rapid manufacture of the implants from non-intrusive scans is also expected to cut costs and waiting times, as well as reducing distress and risks to patients.

Christine Piff, founder of the charity Let’s Face It, which provides support for facial disfigurement sufferers and their families, is collaborating on the project. She said: “The advantages of the development of custom-made implants for bone replacement tissue to the patient are immeasurable.

“The technology brings to the patient a restored quality of life. There will be a significant improvement to the patient’s appearance compared to current treatments. This technique will improve the psychological rehabilitation of the facially disfigured person restoring their self-esteem and confidence to fit into society again.”


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Notes to editors

1. Loughborough University is a world leader in rapid manufacturing, a pioneering technique that builds products by using electronic data rather than traditional factory tools and methods. The art of rapid manufacturing is still being perfected but has already been used to make a range of products, from aircraft parts to running shoes.

2. The project partners are:

Let’s Face It – Network for the Facially Different
The Facial Surgery Research Foundation, Saving Faces
Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery About Face Support Group
Barts and the London Hospital NHS Trust
East Midlands NHS Innovation Hub
Medical Devices Faraday Partnership
Queens Medical Centre, Nottingham
University College London
Queen Mary University of London

3. Loughborough has an established reputation for excellence in teaching and research, strong links with industry, and unrivalled sporting achievement. Assessments of teaching quality by the Quality Assurance Agency place it in the top flight of UK universities; the National Student Survey ranked Loughborough equal first among full-time students; and industry highlights the University in its top five for graduate recruitment. Around 40% of Loughborough’s income is for research, and 60% for teaching. The University has been awarded five Queen’s Anniversary Prizes: for its collaboration with aerospace and automotive companies such as BAE Systems, Ford and Rolls Royce; for its work in developing countries; for pioneering research in optical engineering; for its world-leading role in sports research, education and development; and for its outstanding work in evaluating and helping to develop social policy-related programmes.

In 2006 Loughborough celebrates the 40th anniversary of its University Charter, awarded on 19 April 1966 in recognition of the excellence achieved by Loughborough College of Advanced Technology and its predecessor Colleges. Loughborough University of Technology was renamed Loughborough University in 1996.

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