3D Printing Gives a Dog a Bone
Sasha Sharma posted on February 19, 2016 | | 7276 views

3D printing is currently changing the human healthcare industry. Could veterinary medicine be next? 

If veterinary schools have their say, then yes, it could. 

From Scan to Skull  

3D printing is evolving from an expensive tool for giant industrial institutions into a ubiquitous industrial necessity, and perhaps even into a household commodity. It has also found many proponents in veterinary doctors and scholars.  

Evelyn Galban, a neurosurgeon and lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine’s Department of Clinical Studies, said of a canine patient with a malformed skull, “It’s difficult to fully understand the malformation until we have it in our hands. That usually doesn’t happen until we’re in surgery.” 

That is, until now. To examine her patient’s skull deformity pre-surgery, Galban generated a 3D-printed replica of the patient’s skull

3D-printed replica of a canine skull. (Image courtesy of UPenn Spotlights.)
3D-printed replica of a canine skull. (Image courtesy of UPenn Spotlights.)

3D printing could give veterinary doctors the option to study tangible models of the abnormalities they seek to correct. “[T]o be able to hold a replica […] in your hand […] The advantages of that are tenfold compared to a screen image,” said Frank Verstraete, from the University of California, Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine.


A Dog’s Bones

Deidre Quinn-Gorham from Tuskegee University’s School of Veterinary Medicine recently completed a study that details the use of 3D printing in pre-operative animal health procedures.  

Quinn-Gorham collaborated with the university’s Department of Aerospace Science Engineering to reproduce—via 3D printing—a surgical metal plate, and an abnormal humerus (forearm) bone from a canine.

The university’s Department of Aerospace Science Engineering used an orthopedic surgical plate to generate a small-scale 3D model using a simple rectangular template and the plate’s measurements. They printed the model using spools of pink Polylactic Acid (PLA), a biodegradable plastic filament. 

Small-scale 3D-printed replica of a surgical metal plate. (Image courtesy of Deidre Quinn-Gorham.)
Small-scale 3D-printed replica of a surgical metal plate. (Image courtesy of Deidre Quinn-Gorham.)

To get an even more precise rendering of the bone, and the metal plate, Quinn-Gorham employed Direct Dimensions, a Maryland company that laser-scanned the bone and the plate.

Xometry, an industrial 3D printing and CNC machining services company, also based in Maryland, then rendered these models: the bone in a plastic nylon material and a metal plate in aluminum.


The Old and the New

Quinn-Gorham found the 3D-printed models accurate, and visibly identical to the originals. 

3D-printed replicas of a canine humerus bone, and a surgical metal plate. (Image courtesy of Deidre Quinn-Gorham.)
3D-printed replicas of a canine humerus bone and a surgical metal plate. (Image courtesy of Deidre Quinn-Gorham.)

The Sky's the Limit

In Quinn-Gorham’s opinion, 3D printing could effectively improve preoperative procedures, and planning for veterinary surgery. It could certainly improve precision.

The models could also be preserved for a prolonged period of time for use in teaching, and future surgeries. Additionally, they could be the harbingers of 3D-printed prosthetics, and artificial organs for animals.

Veterinary schools are at the forefront of the movement to bring 3D printing to animal medicine, but as the required tools become ever more prevalent, the technology could soon be adopted by local veterinarians. To an injured or ill pet and its owner, it could mean all the difference in the world.