According to an article to appear on January 10 in the New Scientist, a software originally developed for the film industry is being modified to "predict how surgery on a particular person's face will alter their appearance after the operation."
The software, which models the effect of the different incisions surgeons can make, is designed to help minimise the disfigurement some patients can suffer after a major operation.
"The system allows the user to see the results of a particular wound closure and edit the cutting path to explore different options," says Steve Pieper, a computer scientist at the Brigham and Women's Hospital's Surgical Planning Laboratory in Boston who helped create it.
Pieper started to work on such a software ten years ago, but his results were not accurate enough to recognize different individuals' skin.
Now Pieper, together with colleagues from Digital Elite in Los Angeles, a company that specialises in facial modelling for the film industry, has produced software that solves this problem by basing its calculations on data from MRI scans of the patient undergoing surgery.
Before going to some technical details, here is a 'final 3D photo-realistic facial model with corresponding MRI scans as shown in the real-time visualization engine (Credit: Digital Elite Inc.).
The scans show the structure of the epidermis, the dermis and the subcutaneous fat, the three layers closest to the skin surface. This is combined with a 3D scan of the skin surface to give the external shape of the face. These layers have an important effect on the way the face looks and the forces the skin is put under when it is cut and as it is knitting back together.
MRI scans can give a good indication of the dimensions and physical properties of these layers, such as their stiffness, which can be used to predict the effects surgery might have.
The new technique gives surgeons a way of creating a virtual model of the face that includes these layers and models their physical properties. Using the data from the MRI scan, the software employs a widespread technique known as "finite element modelling" to divide each layer into thousands of three-dimensional elements.
The researchers plan to present their work at the SPIE Electronic Imaging Conference, which will be held in San Jose between January 18 and 22.
You can read this presentation, "Facial Modeling for Plastic Surgery Using Magnetic Resonance Imagery and 3D Surface Data" on the Digital Elite website (PDF format, 277 KB, 6 pages).
Source: Celeste Biever, New Scientist, January 10, 2004, via EurekAlert!