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3-D printing takes guesswork out of surgery

3-DprintingWhen 11-month-old Bekka hobbled into the Cornell University Hospital for Animals, a CT showed that she needed surgery. The German shepherd puppy had an angular limb deformity that was causing her leg to grow crooked. But the CT didn’t tell the entire story. To be fully prepared for surgery, Dr. Ursula Krotscheck, assistant professor of small animal surgery, wanted a chance to study the bones pre-surgery.

Thanks to a collaboration between Cornell’s College of Veterinary Medicine and College of Engineering, Krotscheck was able to do just that in a two-hour surgery performed on Friday, May 8, 2009. Dr. Hod Lipson and graduate student Daniel Cohen used a three-dimensional printer to fabricate medical models based on CT scans that showed the bones in Bekka’s leg. Krotscheck used these physical models to better plan the operation and customize metal plates that would be needed during surgery – before surgery started.

“I knew what plate to use, how to contour the plate, where it should sit on the bone, and where the cuts should be made,” said Krotscheck. “All the decision-making was done 24 hours in advance. Having access to the models prior to surgery decreased the length of time Bekka was under anesthesia, decreased the time surgery took from start to finish, and ultimately decreased the risk of infection.”

While the procedure is commonly used for people, this is the first time that Cornell has used it for surgery on an animal, Krotscheck explained, adding that she’s been looking for the ideal candidate for some time. Fabricating the bones took approximately nine hours, making the technique well-suited for scheduled – as opposed to emergent – surgeries. The technique has been reported in scientific literature for use with canines only once in 2008.