A Canadian veterinarian recently made headlines after being the first veterinarian to successfully use a custom, 3D-printed plate for surgery on a dog’s skull.
Dr. Michelle Oblak is a graduate of the Ontario Veterinary College currently studying dogs as a disease model for cancer in humans. Because Oblak considers the current implantation method to be imprecise, costly, and lengthy, her group has been working on 3D-printing skulls for several years.
Various reports compare Oblak’s work to a project done in the UK; however, in an e-mail to Shareably, she clarified:
“Initially it seemed that [the UK] work had been similar to what we do, but we actually recently learned based on viewing the extended video on YouTube that the work was in fact based on a different method to produce the plate— not rapid prototyping.”
Recently, Oblak received a call from Danielle Dymeck, a resident of Williamsport, Pennsylvania.
The woman’s dog Patches had been diagnosed with multilobular osteochondrosarcoma (MLO), a tumor of the bone.
MLO is fairly uncommon, and according to the Animal Cancer & Imaging Center: “No breed or sex predilection has been described.” Most cases occur in the skull of a dog, causing a raised bump— and indeed, Patches was presenting a typical case.
Patches’ tumor had rapidly grown over the course of a few months. Now, it was so big it was pushing on her head, growing dangerously close to her eye socket and brain. Dymeck had consulted with Cornell University who got her in touch with the Canadian vet.
At first, Dymeck wasn’t sure if she would allow Patches to be part of Oblak’s research. But in the end, she decided it was for the greater good. In an interview with CBC News, she said:
“They felt she [Patches] could recover from this.”
“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.”
To create the 3D-printed plate, Oblak first had to simulate the surgery on a computer to see how big the hole in Patches’ skull would be.
In the end, the dog would need to have about 70% of her skull replaced.
The vet then designed a plate to the hole’s specifications, including room for screws and all.
Once the final design had been printed, everything was ready to go. Teaming up with small animal surgeon Dr. Galina Hayes for the four-hour surgery, Oblak proceeded to remove Patches’ tumor and replace the canine’s skull.
Only 30 minutes after the surgery, Patches was already up and walking around.
This is the first time this type of process has been used— but the dog’s procedure isn’t just a leap for veterinary medicine.
These successful surgeries are building the basis to incorporate 3D-printing in human implantation surgeries, as well.
“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,” said Oblak.
Additionally, the level of customization offered by 3D-printed implants emphasizes the idea of an implant being tailored to the individual— a direct contrast to the ‘one size fits all’ system used now.
As can be imagined, Dymeck is elated that the surgery was a success.
“It’s pretty amazing what they did for my girl,” she said.
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