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Auburn College of Veterinary Medicine Using 3D Technology in Complicated Surgeries

By Janet L. McCoy, (e) mccoyjl@auburn.edu, (p) 334-844-3698

Auburn, Alabama —

The latest in printing technology is going to the dogs, cats and other animals -- literally. The Auburn University College of Veterinary Medicine is among the first veterinary programs in the U.S. using three-dimensional printing and models in advance of complicated surgeries.

The Radiology Department has begun using the newly-acquired printer to investigate ways of improving surgical planning. The Makerbot 3D printer was the first technology grant awarded by the college’s Information and Instructional Technology Committee.

Radiology resident Dr. Adrien-Maxence Hespel applied for the grant, along with Dr. Judith Hudson and Dr. Ronald Montgomery, and it has already been put to good use. In the first week of use, the 3D printer was successfully used to provide a solution for a complicated surgical procedure before the surgery was performed. Recently, it was used to create before and after models in a complicated eye fracture surgery of a horse.

Dr. Don Sorjonen, professor emeritus of neurology and neurosurgery who has returned to the college as a consultant, said using the 3D technology proved extremely helpful in the planning of a surgical procedure for a small dog.

“In this particular case, a 1.4 kilogram Yorkshire terrier had an instability of the first and second cervical vertebrae,” Dr. Sorjonen said. “The joint was unstable and not aligned properly.

“Because of this dog's small size, we did not have the proper implants to repair her instability. With the physical model of this dog vertebrae produced by the 3D printer, we could accurately measure the cervical vertebrae and order special plates and screws suited for this dog's repair.

“Being able to craft a surgical remedy before surgery that functioned in surgery was very beneficial. If we did not have the special-ordered plates and screws afforded by measuring the vertebrae from the 3D printer model, the surgical outcome was less likely to be successful,” Dr. Sorjonen said.

A 3D printer builds up objects layer by layer, using various methods to deposit and harden the ‘ink’ where it is needed. Many materials, including plastic, metal, ceramic and even human cells, can now be printed, based on instructions from computer-assisted design (CAD) programs.

Dr. Hespel, a native of France who is also a graduate teaching assistant at the College of Veterinary Medicine, says he thought for a long time that the possibility to recreate objects in 3D would really help the veterinary medicine teaching hospital but it has only recently become available.

“Thanks to a computer we were able to create 3D model on a screen, but allowing this model to be printed gives us an excellent tool for communicating with our colleagues and clients”,” Dr. Hespel said. “The 3D printer allows the surgeons to evaluate more approaches to solve a problem preoperatively and may help them in deciding which solution is optimal for the patient.

“By having a prototype in their hand, surgeons can narrow their choice of surgical implants ahead of time” Dr. Hespel added. “As the model can be sterilized, they can even be used during surgery as quick reference.”

The printer has also been used to create an anatomy model, to study a bone fracture and conduct an equine research project.

Ashley Burt, director of Information and Instruction Technology for the college and a member of the IIT committee, says the printer was the perfect choice for committee’s first technology grant award.

“The grant program was established to foster innovation in the college that will leverage the world-class facilities that have been and are being built,” Burt said. “Initially this printer is being used to investigate ways of improving surgical planning.  However, there are many other teaching opportunities afforded by this technology and we are hopeful that other faculty members will develop new and innovative applications to aid in our instructional mission.”

  1. Dr. Adrien-Maxence Hespel

  2. Skeleton of healthy cat.

  3. Healthy horse foot to evaluate physiological structure.

  4. Full skeleton of healthy cat.

  5. Bronchial tree of healthy reptile.

© 2009 Auburn University College of Veterinary Medicine