Researchers print 3D skull for dog who lost part of hers to cancer

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A 9-year-old dog has a new skull and a cancer-free life because of 3D printing.

Patches, the cancer-stricken dachshund, is feeling better thanks to researchers at a Canadian university.

Dr. Michelle Oblak, a veterinary surgical oncologist with the University of Guelph’s Ontario Veterinary College, worked with Cornell University small-animal surgeon Galina Hayes to remove the tumor growing on Patches’ skull. They replaced the missing skull piece with a 3D-printed plate, which was made by medical technological company Adeiss.

The university said the procedure was a veterinary first in North America.

The 9-year-old dog had a large cancerous tumor on the front of her skull that was pushing dangerously close to her brain and eye socket. It was so large that it started weighing down her head and growing into her skull, according to the university.

Oblak mapped out the dog’s tumor using rapid prototyping and 3D-printed implants for reconstruction. She practiced removing the tumor on a 3D-printed model of Patches’ skull and tumor.

“I was able to do the surgery before I even walked into the operating room,” she said in a statement from the university.

Oblak praised the technology, adding the plate used to replace Patches’ skull was designed specifically for her.

“What was really interesting in this case was the fact that we were instead able to take those scans and actually create a plate that fit perfectly to this dog,” she said.

Without 3D-printing, the creation of the plate is a more generic process. The titanium mesh is molded into a general model, which is then modified to the patient.

“[3D printing] shifts the focus from an implant that has been designed for common use that requires modification to a patient, to a patient-specific implant that has been designed directly for them,” Oblak said.

Oblak mentioned the possibility of using this technology on humans.

“What’s really great about this is that we’re able to use this cutting-edge technology in our animal patients, but we’re also going to be able to contribute valuable information so that this can be used in humans, as well,” she said.

Doctors have used 3D printing in humans for purposes like reconstructing jawbones and vertebrae, and 3D models have also been used to plan for major surgeries.

As for Patches, she is six months cancer-free, and her surgery was a success, said her owner, Danielle Dymeck. Unrelated to the surgery, Patches slipped a disk in her back shortly after the procedure, but Dymeck’s attitude is still positive.

“She was just ready to be a dog again,” Dymeck said of Patches’ recovery. “Cancer research like they are doing is very important to both humans and animals.”

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