3-D Printers Help Vets Prep for Surgery

From Ohio State to China, the future is now when it comes to making replicas of animal bones.

A $2,500 printer is spitting out realistic plastic bones to help Ohio State University veterinary students practice surgical techniques before they operate on dogs.

The designs fed into the 3-D printer are based on CT images taken at the Veterinary Medical Center.

“We can use a CT scan from a patient and produce a bone model that looks exactly like the bone in the dog,” said Tatiana Motta, DVM, MS, an assistant professor in the department of veterinary clinical sciences.

The manufacturing is relatively fast—a few hours or less in some cases—but turning the CT image into a readable file for the printer is time consuming. A printed bone may be produced within 24 hours of a scan, Dr. Motta said.

The 3-D printer—the MakerBot Replicator 2X—layers strings of plastic to create the bone, Ohio State reported. Each layer is 700 strings thick.

Faculty members are using printed bones for training as well. 3-D replicas have assisted associate professor Jonathan Dyce, VetMB, MRCVS, Dipl. ACVS, as he plans surgeries on dogs suffering from severe limb deformities.

“I think we are just starting to realize the advancements this technology may give us,” Dr. Dyce said. “The next few years are going to be quite exciting.”

Columbus, Ohio, isn’t the only place where 3-D printers are churning out plastic animal bones.

The bear rescue group Animals Asia reported in April that a 3-D printer created a replica of a patient’s humeral condyle for use by veterinarians planning the repair of an elbow fracture.

“Having the 3-D model was a huge help for the entire vet team,” said Animals Asia’s Mandala Hunter-Ishikawa, MS, DVM. “The humeral condyle is surrounded by layers of thick muscle and although we can see the shape in a 2-D radiograph, the angles of drilling and approach can be more accurately decided with the 3-D model.”

The two-stage surgery, which involved a titanium plate and screws, was performed on a moon bear at the Chengdu Bear Rescue Center in China.

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