3-D Planning for Facial Plastic Surgery: A New Frontier

A Yale surgeon combines machine-learning algorithms with digital modeling for complicated facial plastic surgeries.

The human face is an extremely complex anatomical structure that fills crucial functional and aesthetic roles. 

Plastic and reconstructive surgeon Derek Steinbacher, DMD, MD, FACS, says he thinks of it like architecture. “Form and function follow one another,” he says. “If something is not well proportioned or is imbalanced, there most often is a functional component that goes along with that.” For instance, an abnormality in the appearance of the face could also interfere with a critical function such as being able to eat, speak, chew, or breathe.

This inherent complexity means facial plastic surgery requires careful planning before scalpel touches skin. Using customized data from the patient, surgeons can create a 3-D rendering that is precise and personalized.

“We can manipulate patient data in the 3-D space to better understand their preoperative conditions and manipulate that in a way that helps us get the best result we can,” says Dr. Steinbacher.  

The video above discusses this type of 3-D planning, which has been well established as a valuable tool for these types of complicated surgeries. But Dr. Steinbacher and his colleagues are now taking that technology a step further by applying machine-learning algorithms to the digital modeling.

“Incorporating this model into our planning process is going to help us get reproducible, high-fidelity, accurate, and very aesthetic results,” says Dr. Steinbacher.

To learn more, visit yalemedicine.org.