Layla, a seven-year-old, 2,300-pound black rhino at Brookfield Zoo in Chicago, hasn’t been feeling so well lately. Anyone who has ever suffered from an impacted molar, like Layla has been, knows that it’s not a pleasant experience, but Layla’s molar ended up causing an infection that blocked her sinuses and made it difficult for her to breathe. As rhinos breathe only through their noses, this was a potentially life-threatening condition, so the zoo needed to operate. First, however, they needed to determine the exact nature of the blockage, requiring a CT scan. How, exactly, does one CT scan a rhino? With a forklift, of course.
Actually, the forklift was used to get the tranquilized Layla from her enclosure in the zoo’s Pachyderm House to the CT scanner inside the building, where it moved around her head three times to create an image. The CT scanner was a model called BodyTom, the first-ever battery-powered, portable, 32-slice scanner, which was donated by Samsung Electronics subsidiary NeuroLogica.
The image was then sent to TeraRecon, whose advanced medical image processing solutions can turn CT scans into 3D printable models. The company created a model and then passed it along to WhiteClouds, which created a detailed 3D print. Thanks to WhiteClouds’ “hinge and slice” technique, the surgeons were able to get a fan-like view of the impacted region.
“We continue to see growing interest in the impact of 3D printing in veterinary medicine,” said Jerry Ropelato, CEO of WhiteClouds. “As we now provide prints to the veterinary community, we are excited to extend into the zoological space and participate in such a significant, first-of-kind effort for Layla.”
The 3D print allowed Layla’s surgeons to assess the infected mass in her sinuses, as well as the impacted molar, and plan for how to remove them. On Monday, May 7th, Layla underwent a surgery to remove the tooth and the infected tissue that was causing the blockage. A second CT scan revealed that a fragment of tooth still remained, so a second surgery was necessary, but Layla is now recovering nicely – and she has the honor of being the first rhinoceros ever to be CT scanned, as far as the zoo knows.
The eastern black rhino is critically endangered in the wild, thanks largely to poaching. The cousin western black rhino has sadly been hunted to extinction, while there are about 5,300 eastern black rhinos left in Africa. That’s an improvement from the 2,300 that existed in 1993; however, that number was a 96 percent decline from the 1970 population, so there’s still a long way to go. Rhinos such as Layla are being raised at zoos in hopes of raising awareness of the species’ plight, as well as to boost the population through breeding. There’s a possibility that Layla might have a calf someday; if she does, it will be big news, as it was when baby black rhino King was born at the nearby Lincoln Park Zoo in 2013.
Layla is one of only 59 eastern black rhinos in North American zoos, so she’s a special animal who was certainly worth the trouble of bringing in a special CT scanner and creating the 3D print that helped her surgeons to effectively clean out the infection that was causing her problems.
“Layla is recovering well from the first surgery that was very successful due to the thorough preparation and surgical planning by our team that was enabled by the 3D printed model,” said Dr. Michael Adkesson, Vice President of Clinical Medicine for the Chicago Zoological Society, which manages Brookfield Zoo, after the first surgery. “We greatly appreciate the partnership of TeraRecon and WhiteClouds to help this surgery go as smoothly and quickly as possible, creating an optimal outcome for Layla.”
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