Humans see medical advances every day, but in Tampa, Florida, cutting-edge technology meets veterinary medicine to help save a vulnerable species.
Perched in his home in ZooTampa, it’s hard to tell anything was wrong with Crescent, a 25-year-old great Indian hornbill.
But on his helmet, the upper part of his beak and the helmet-like structure on top of his head are a sign of the efforts of a cross section of engineers, medical experts and veterinarians using the technology of 3D printing.
“It’s not something we do frequently in veterinary medicine,” said ZooTampa associate veterinarian Dr. Kendra Baker. “The number of people we’ve spoken to have helped us make this the most successful plan possible for Crescent is just fabulous.”
Baker said a lesion on Crescent’s helmet was confirmed to be squamous cell carcinoma, which is a common form of skin cancer in humans but often fatal in hornbills. The cancer could have gotten bigger, gnawed at her beak and not allowed her to eat, Baker said.
“After learning that a bird in Singapore had a similar lesion and they corrected it by removing it and then replacing the beak with a prosthetic, we decided this would probably have the best outcome for her,” Baker said.
So the team turned to medical experts from South Florida Health University and Tampa General Hospital. Scientists, experts in radiology and 3D clinical applications, work daily with human patients on topics such as patient education, preoperative planning, and the creation of personalized devices and treatments. But in their volunteer time, they’ve been known to help a few animals.
“Oh my goodness who we’ve worked with, I already know over 50 different species, from sea turtles and wallabies to baby sloths and manatees,” said Summer Decker, Ph.D., director of clinical applications. 3D for USF Health and Tampa General Hospital. in the radiology department.
But the hornbill is a first.
Decker said they only heard of a 3D prosthesis created for a hornbill “one other time around the world.”
The teams first obtained a scan of Crescent and his head.
“The cancer aspect is there,” said Jonathan Ford, Ph.D., technical director for the 3D Clinical Applications Division of the Department of Radiology at USF Health and Tampa General Hospital, pointing to an area highlighted in red on the scan.
They were able to model the anatomy and the cancer, then plan and print a surgical cutting guide to help remove the tumor as well as the prosthesis to fit over the part of the helmet to be removed.
“For the bird, we had to consider where it would be on the anatomy,” Ford said. “Because on the back of the head it won’t be impacted and used in feedings, so we didn’t have to worry about biting forces. So we were allowed to use a material that could be approved and not rejected by the bird’s tissues and last a long time, plus it had to be able to survive in the elements.
The teams collaborated with Formlabs, which donated a new material in development called BioMed White Resin.
“It was a photo-reactive, biocompatible resin, so it forms into a liquid form, and a UV laser shoots underneath and makes that geometry solid,” Ford said.
In a statement to Newsy, Formlabs Director of Medical Market Development Gaurav Manchanda said, “Formlabs 3D printers and BioMed materials are used to deliver precision healthcare, and clinical literature has shown best results when patient-specific prostheses, medical devices, and surgical devices have been used with human patients. We are thrilled that our technology was also able to bring these same benefits to Crescent, who also discovered a unique and unexpected benefit that warmed the hearts of everyone involved.
Decker explained the initiative called “One World,” which involves working with veterinarians on human medical technology. “I feel like we’ve contributed a bit that we can take this technology that’s cutting edge in human medicine and apply it to veterinary medicine, it really puts that in their hands and they can do things they haven’t been able to do before,” Decker said.
The prognosis for Crescent is good. She even made the prosthetic piece yellow, as she does the rest of her beak.
“So effectively it shows us that she’s licking herself appropriately, she’s showing natural behaviors which is great, her vocalizations are normal, she’s holding her head normally, so it all turned out fantastic and we’re on it very excited,” Baker said.
The effort to help Crescent is also part of a conservation effort. She is considered middle-aged for her species and the International Union for Conservation of Nature classifies the birds as ‘vulnerable’ with a declining population, with threats including hunting and deforestation.
“We don’t have many females of breeding age in zoological institutions to help with restocking efforts, so the fact that we have one now that is still 25 years old in her life is fantastic for the species as well.” , Baker said.
Crescent is described as a favorite of people at the zoo.
“She has a presence in her, she is very majestic and when people see [her] here because of its presence, it inspires conservation,” Baker said.
“When things are really tense and the world is a little crazy, hearing all these people putting things aside to work together, it just gives a little hope in humanity.
Also, seeing this bird fly in its enclosure and seeing it doing well makes me really happy,” Decker said.
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