What they see is what they get at the Mississippi State University Veterinary Specialty Center, which is using a 3-D printer to construct plastic copies of patients’ damaged spines and skulls.
The replicas spit out by the $2,200 LutzBot TAZ 4 3-D printer allow veterinarians and students to examine internal injuries up close and plan corrective measures.
“We take CT scans of spinal injuries, convert them into three-dimensional images on a screen and convert those to files that can transmit that information to the printer,” said Andy Shores, DVM, MS, Ph.D., Dipl. ACVIM. “The result is a plastic model identical to what was on the screen.”
The reproductions also assist in the education of Mississippi State veterinary students and neurosurgery residents, said Dr. Shores, chief neurosurgeon in the College of Veterinary Medicine.
“The equipment prints out bony structures, so future students can see exactly how a particular injury looks and get a better appreciation for the condition we’re talking about while on rounds,” he said. “If you have a patient with a broken bone or vertebrae, to be able to put that structure in your hand goes a long way toward the students’ understanding what it is and how to repair it.”
The off-campus Veterinary Specialty Center specializes in neurologic, neurosurgical and ophthalmologic care. Patients may be suffering from brain tumors, spinal injuries or other trauma.
Another type of 3-D printer someday may manufacture surgical implants, Shores said.
“If we have a dog that has a badly fractured vertebrae that can’t be repaired and will continue to deteriorate, a biocompatible device allows you to take dimensions of the vertebrae, reconstruct them on a screen, print it out and replace the body part,” he said. “The limitations of a three-dimensional printer in medicine and surgery have to do with your imagination.
“The technology is a crucial component in the future of surgery and medicine. We don’t want to be reading about it. We want to be a part of it and be at the forefront.”
The veterinary field should get used to 3-D printers, said Andrew Mackin, BVMS, MVS, DVSc, the interim head of the department of clinical sciences.
“What seems almost like it is lifted straight from the pages of science fiction today will become the standard of care for our veterinary patients in the near future,” he said.