There’s no denying the impact that 3D printing technology has had on the medical industry. From surgical preparation to patient-specific prosthetics, it has become a viable technological solution for a growing number of healthcare-related applications. This impact extends way beyond human healthcare too, and has served a vast range of species, particularly our winged and feathered bird brethren. Throughout this year alone, we’ve seen Phillip the duck receive new 3D printed feet, a Chinese cockatoo saved with a beak prosthetic, and a Brazilian macaw that obtained the world’s first-ever titanium beak replacement.
It also appears that 3D printing technology is helping veterinarians prep for surgical procedures on one of the most prized bird species in the world. Recently, students from the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine had come across a wild eagle with its left humerus out of alignment, due to improper healing after it was shattered by a gunshot wound months earlier. In order to help the bird take flight again, an intensive surgery was required. To do this, the veterinarian students turned to those in the College of Engineering, who assisted by creating two 3D printed life-sized models of the eagle’s humerus, one that was healthy and another that replicated the actual injured bone.
Before the the 3D printed models were used by Dr. R. Avery Bennett, an acclaimed avian surgeon, to help perform the procedure, a massive dataset was procured from the spiral CT scan taken by veterinary radiologist Dr. Stephen Joslyn. Consulting from Australia, Dr. Joslyn added a so-called ‘threshold’ into the data, which enabled the computer to separate ‘bone’ and ‘not-bone’ from the subtle and delicate CT scan information. Since the injured bone was fragmented, and thus unable to be printed in a single piece, medical illustrator Janet Sinn-Hanlon utilized software to manually thicken and link the bone areas together.
After communications went back-and-forth between experts across the world, which were facilitated by Wildlife Medical Clinic intern and University of Illinois student Dr. Nichole Rosenhagen, it seemed that the life-sized models were set to be 3D printed in the university’s Rapid Prototyping Lab. But, the day before the surgery was planned, it turned out that the 3D printing queue was full. Thanks to Ralf Möller, the lab supervisor and director of technical services in the Department of Mechanical Science and Engineering, the models were 3D printed overnight in about six hours, and were good to go by the time the lab opened up the next morning.
Möller enlisted the help of undergraduate student and lab technician Nick Ragano, who visited the lab overnight to ensure that 3D models would be prepared for use, and also pressure washed the starch-based support material used to print the plastic models. That morning, the 3D printed bones were collected by Dr. Rosenhagen, and the injured eagle received successful orthopedic surgery in a matter of three hours on May 5th.
Thanks to 3D printing technology and the collaborative effort between the University of Illinois students and experts, the veterinarians involved in the procedure are hoping to see this majestic eagle take a normal flight sometime in the very near future. Discuss further in the Vets 3D Print Eagle Humerus forum over at 3DPB.com.[Source/Images: Engineering at Illinois]