University of Pennsylvania veterinarians experimenting with 3D printing to prepare for surgeries

Members of the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine are putting 3D printing to the test as a futuristic way to prepare for surgeries.

The veterinarians' collaboration on the 3D printing project with the university's school of design - known as PennDesign - began with a dog named Millie who had a skull featuring a bony protrusion that required removal, according to Penn Current.

Evelyn Galban, DVM, DACVIM, neurosurgeon and lecturer at the School of Veterinary Medicine's Department of Clinical Studies-Philadelphia, contacted PennDesign's Stephen Smeltzer and Dennis Pierattini with a special request: to print a three-dimensional replica of Millie's skull.

According to Galban, she wanted her veterinary team to actually hold a model of Millie's skull in their hands to better visualize how to treat the dog.

"It's difficult to fully understand the malformation until we have it in our hands," Galban said. "That usually doesn't happen until we're in surgery."

Galban first took a CAT scan of Millie's skull, then formatted the files so that PennDesign's 3D printer could read them. The finished product was a life-sized 3D replica of Millie's skull made of gypsum powder bound with acrylic, all sealed with a substance resembling super glue that keeps it rigid.

Following the success of their first printing effort, Galban and her collaborators have already identified several additional ways that 3D printing can be useful for veterinary medicine, including: 

  • Enabling surgeons to practice techniques and visualize procedures in advance of the surgery.
  • Allowing for design of a "patch" to precisely fit areas of the skull that are removed.
  • Enabling surgeons to visualize ways to drill into bone that bypass blood vessels and delicate tissues.

Read more about the collaboration on the Penn Current website.

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