The Mall of America is more than just the Taj Mahal Mall, known for its vastness, it is also home to public aquarium called Sea Life that houses Seemore the sea turtle, who was unfortunately injured when struck by a boat. In the wild, her chances of survival were slim; her cracked shell left her prone to accumulation of gases under her skin, specifically on her hindquarters, that hindered her ability to dive underwater, something essential for a sea turtle. The syndrome, known as Bubble Butt Syndrome, sounds like something that some people would spend a lot of money to have done to them, but it quickly became clear that it was a serious issue and required attention.

[Image: Maddy Fox]

The staff at the exhibit had created a series of weights that could be attached to Seemore’s shell that helped to counteract the accumulated gases, but they were never more than a temporary solution as they often came loose, either because of conditions in the salt water or because Seemore herself found them irritating and worked them loose. And so they reached out to students at the University of Minnesota‘s Institute for Engineering in Medicine, specifically its 3D Printing Core, for some help and on July 3, they met to create a plan to address the problem with a longer term solution.

[Image: Maddy Fox/Minnesota Daily]

The team realized the possibilities for undertaking the iteration required to create the prosthesis presented when using 3D printing technology and set about to create a 3D model of the shell. This required that a CT scan of the giant turtle and a crash course in turtle anatomy. It quickly became apparent that this project was more than just creating a veritable “hard hat” to protect the areas with the damaged shell. It had to be made out of materials that wouldn’t be damaged by the salt in the water, allowed water to flow around it freely, and that could withstand interactions with a number of other sea creatures. In addition, graduate student Davis Fay noted: “Seemore wedges herself between rocks to sleep, which is a nightmare if you are a designer.”

These are exactly the kinds of nightmares that these students want to have, and being able to 3D print the prototypes is allowing the students to push the boundaries with a greater degree of freedom. The reduction of cost and time invested in the production of each iteration gives the students the sense that taking risks won’t result in disastrous delays.

This isn’t the first time that 3D printing has been used to create prosthetics to assist animals, something that is becoming more and more mainstream in veterinary interventions. Last year, for example, a Great Dane named Leroy who’d had a leg amputated because of a malignant tumor, received a 3D printed prosthetic that has given him the ability to continue hiking with his owner. In fact, Seemore isn’t even the first turtle to reap the benefits of this advanced technology. When a turtle came into the Oatland Wildlife Center in Savannah, Georgia, it needed to have its leg amputated. Afterwards, the vet’s daughter and her class worked to create a 3D printed prosthetic for the critter, whom they affectionately named Stumpy.

[Image: Brittney Lohmiller/Savannah Morning News]

The ability of 3D printing technology to create something that is absolutely customized for a particular situation makes it an ideal technology for producing the prosthetic itself, and it’s quite possible that the team at the University of Minnesota will do more than just the prototyping phase through 3D printing. The team is hoping to be able to give the final prosthetic to the turtle later this summer and have Seemore happily swimming about once again. Share your thoughts in the Sea Turtle forum at 3DPB.com.

[Source: Minnesota Daily]

 

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