3D Printing Gives Cancer-Stricken Dog a New Skull

The complex surgery that saw the dachshund's skull fully restored is a veterinary first in North America and could have novel applications in reconstruction surgeries for humans.

In what may be the most adorable news in 3D printing yet, researchers have used the technology to create a custom titanium plate for a cancer-stricken dog who had parts of his skull removed in surgery. The procedure on the cute dachshund was a veterinary first in North America and many now introduce a novel breakthrough in reconstruction surgeries.

The complex procedure saw Dr. Michelle Oblak from Ontario Veterinary College and Cornell small-animal surgeon Dr. Galina Hayes surgically remove a large cancerous tumor from the canine's skull. The small dog's bone structure was then left with giant gaps, over 70% of the top skull, that were restored using a 3D printed implant. 

Customized state-of-the-art implants

"The technology has grown so quickly, and to be able to offer this incredible, customized, state-of-the-art plate in one of our canine patients was really amazing,” said in a statement Oblak, assistant co-director of the U of G’s Institute for Comparative Cancer Investigation and board-certified veterinary surgical oncologist at OVC.

Oblak is currently examining canines as a disease model for cancer in humans and working with University of Guelph’s rapid prototyping of patient-specific implants for dogs (RaPPID) working. The group is analyzing the of use of digital rapid prototyping for advance planning for surgeries and 3D printed implants for reconstruction.

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The lovable dachshund named Patches was an ideal patient for this reconstructing procedure as the poor puppy was suffering from multilobular osteochondrosarcoma. Her tumor had grown so big it had begun dangerously pushing close to her brain and eye socket.

Oblak worked with the RaPPID team at OVC to map the tumor’s location and size and an engineer from Sheridan College’s Centre for Advanced Manufacturing Design and Technologies to create a 3D model of the dog’s skull. The doctor then proceeded to “virtually” perform the surgery to estimate what would be left of the bone once the growth was removed.

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“I was able to do the surgery before I even walked into the operating room,” said Oblak. Once the missing parts were mapped, she reached out to ADEISS, a London-based 3D medical printing company, to create the implant.

Like a puzzle piece

This resulted in an ideal customized implant that fit into place like a puzzle piece. “This is major for tumour reconstruction in many places on the head, limb prosthesis, developmental deformities after fractures and other traumas,” said Oblak.

Most importantly, approaching the surgery with this technique removes the need to model an implant in the operating room making such procedures safer as well as more effective. Oblak now hopes to see the technology transferred for use in humans.

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“By performing these procedures in our animal patients, we can provide valuable information that can be used to show the value and safety of these implants for humans. These implants are the next big leap in personalized medicine that allows for every element of an individual’s medical care to be specifically tailored to their particular needs.”

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