3-D print­ing helps save dog’s life


Calgary Herald - - FRONT PAGE - liam Casey

Re­searchers at an On­tario uni­ver­sity have used 3Dprint­ing tech­nol­ogy to re­place the ma­jor­ity of a dog’s can­cer-rid­den skull, a novel pro­ce­dure they say marks a ma­jor ad­vance­ment in ve­teri­nary medicine.

Michelle Oblak, a ve­teri­nary sur­gi­cal on­col­o­gist with the Uni­ver­sity of Guelph’s On­tario Ve­teri­nary Col­lege, said she be­lieves the pro­ce­dure is the first of its kind in North Amer­ica and a sub­stan­tive leap from one other known case.

“Our hope is this is some­thing that could be more widely avail­able on a broad scale,” Oblak said. “It went very well.”

Patches, a nine-year-old dachs­hund at the cen­tre of the pro­ce­dure, had a brain tu­mour the size of an or­ange that grew through her skull and would have been fa­tal if not treated, her owner said.

“We called her our lit­tle uni­corn be­cause she had this bump on her head, but it would have killed her,” said Danielle Dymeck, who is from Wil­lam­sport, Pa. “It’s pretty amaz­ing what they did for my girl.”

Dymeck said a small bump that Patches had on her head for years be­gan grow­ing ag­gres­sively some months ago. Her vet pointed her to Cor­nell Uni­ver­sity, famed for its ve­teri­nary pro­gram, and a vet there reached out to Oblak.

The Guelph re­searcher has been study­ing us­ing 3Dprint­ing tech­nol­ogy for dogs.

Pre­vi­ously for a dog like Patches, Oblak said, a tu­mour and part of the skull would be re­moved in surgery and then, while the an­i­mal was still un­der, a sur­geon would fit ti­ta­nium mesh in place.

It was an im­pre­cise, costly and lengthy pro­ce­dure, she said.

A new kind of pro­ce­dure, in which a 3D printer cre­ates a cus­tom-made ti­ta­nium skull cap for a dog, is much bet­ter, Oblak said.

Patches was the per­fect can­di­date, the re­searcher said. The dog needed about 70 per cent of her skull re­moved and re­placed. Ve­teri­nar­i­ans in the U.K. have per­formed a sim­i­lar surgery, but it was on a sig­nif­i­cantly smaller scale, Oblak said.

Patches’ owner said she had a tough time de­cid­ing whether to have her pet be at the cen­tre of the re­search en­deav­our, but even­tu­ally went ahead.

“They felt she could re­cover from this,” Dymeck said. “And to be part of can­cer re­search was a big thing for me — if they can learn some­thing from an­i­mals to help hu­mans, that’s pretty im­por­tant.”

The new method be­gan with a CT scan tak­ing an image of Patches’ head and tu­mour, Oblak said.

Us­ing sev­eral dif­fer­ent soft­ware pro­grams on that image, Oblak and her team dig­i­tally cut out the tu­mour and dis­ease-rid­den parts of the dog’s skull. They then mapped out where a 3Dprinted re­place­ment would fit and what it would look like, com­plete with the lo­ca­tion of holes for screws to hold it in place.

Those dig­i­tal plans were then sent to ADEISS, a med­i­cal-grade 3D print­ing com­pany in Lon­don, Ont., which made a cus­tom­ized ti­ta­nium skull cap for Patches.

Oblak also had to cre­ate a “cut­ting guide” to fol­low dur­ing surgery.

“There’s very lit­tle room for er­ror,” she said. “We’re talk­ing less than two mil­lime­tres or else the plate wouldn’t fit.”

The en­tire pro­ce­dure in­volved sev­eral ve­teri­nary sur­geons, soft­ware en­gi­neers and an in­dus­trial en­gi­neer, Oblak said, but things moved quickly.

It took two hours to map out the plans and send them to the printer and within two weeks the ti­ta­nium skull cap was ready, Oblak said.

It then took four hours for the surgery on Patches on March 23. Within 30 min­utes of wak­ing up, the dog was walk­ing out­side for a bath­room break, said Oblak, who hopes to have de­tails of the pro­ce­dure pub­lished in the com­ing months.

For Patches’ owner, the pro­ce­dure was nearly per­fect.

“Her head looks great, other than her crooked ear,” Dymeck said of her pet’s post-op­er­a­tion look.

Patches is now can­cer free.


Patches, a nine-year-old dachs­hund from Wil­lam­sport, Pa., is shown be­fore surgery for a brain tu­mour that even­tu­ally grew through the skull.

The dog’s cus­tom-made re­place­ment skull was made of ti­ta­nium.

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