3d printed titanium skull

Dog fitted with 3D printed titanium skull shows promising results for human cancer patients

Image credit: pa

Scientists have successfully 3D printed a titanium skull plate for a dog following an operation to remove a large tumour on her head.

The procedure on nine-year old Patches, which was carried out at Ontario Veterinary College by Dr Michelle Oblak, marks a veterinary first for operations of that kind in North America, while signalling a potential new breakthrough in cancer research.

The dog’s tumour, a multilobular osteochondrosarcoma, had grown so large that it was weighing down the dog’s head and growing into her skull, pushing dangerously close to her brain and eye socket.

Oblak removed the tumour, which was growing on the dachshund’s skull, and replaced it with a 3D-printed custom implant that fit in place “like a puzzle piece”.

“The technology has grown so quickly, and to be able to offer this incredible, customised, state-of-the-art plate in one of our canine patients was really amazing,” said Oblak.


Oblak initially mapped the tumour’s location and size and worked with an engineer from Sheridan College’s Centre for Advanced Manufacturing Design and Technologies to create a 3D model of the dog’s head and tumour. After this she was able to “virtually” perform the surgery and see what would be left behind once the growth was removed.

“I was able to do the surgery before I even walked into the operating room,” said Oblak, holding the small 3-D printed model of Patches’ skull with a detachable model of the tumour.

Once she could determine the dimensions of the portion of skull she’d need to replace, she worked with ADEISS, a 3D medical printing company in London, Ont., to adapt software designed for human medicine. Together they created a skull plate to replace the part she planned to remove from Patches’ head.

Typically, she said, surgeries of this kind take a long time. Once the portion of skull is removed, surgeons must assess the damage and shape titanium mesh over the spot. The 3D printed plate fit into place perfectly. For these surgeries, said Oblak, the technique will eliminate the need to model an implant in the operating room and reduce patient risk by shortening the time spent under anaesthesia.


Patches after the successful surgery

Oblak had to replace about 70 per cent of the top surface of the dog’s skull, which left the brain unprotected over a large area.

“She was asleep for about five hours, and within about half an hour after surgery, Patches was alert and looking around. It was amazing,” she said.

“This is major for tumour reconstruction in many places on the head, limb prosthesis, developmental deformities after fractures and other traumas.

“In human medicine, there is a lag in use of the available technology while regulations catch up. 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.

“These implants are the next big leap in personalized medicine that allows for every element of an individual’s medical care to be specifically tailored to their particular needs.”

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