UT using 3-D printers to care for animals

Published: Oct. 31, 2017 at 6:31 PM EDT
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Before surgeons at University of Tennessee Veterinary Medical Center put their patients to sleep, they've already done the operation.

"We'll basically have everything done on the model, know exactly how our surgery is going to go before we go in the OR and do anything on our actual patient," said UT veterinary surgeon Dr. Kyle Snowdon.

Dr. Snowdon and his team are using 3-D printers to create models of complicated procedures for surgeons to practice, essentially a rehearsal before the operation.

"Its almost a cheat code for surgery sometimes, it makes it very nice for us to go in there and for our plan to work well," said Dr. Snowdon.

It starts with a CT scan of the patient. Then, doctors create a 3-D replica of part of the animal.

"Just like they would animate a Pixar movie, we can move things, we can cut them, we can physically do our surgery before physically doing anything outside. And then we can actually print the bones out and do our surgery again before doing anything on the animal," he explained.

Having that plastic model in your hand really makes it click," added Dr. Adrian-Maxence Hespel, UT veterinary radiologist.

Dr. Hespel uses the 3-D printing technology to create replicas of MRI and CT images for veterinarians to practice prior to surgery and teach students anatomy.

The technology also cuts down on cost for the patients' owners. Less time under anesthesia means using fewer drugs.

"When you are in surgery and the patient is under anesthesia, you can actually decrease the surgery time. Decreasing surgery time means you could decrease amount of complication. The longer a patient is under anesthesia, the more complication you could potentially have. Because the use of anesthesia requires the use of drugs, drugs are expensive," explained Dr. Hespel. "If we are able to do a fair amount of pre-planning and pre-surgical while the patient is not under anesthesia, then we can reduce the cost and the complication rate for the patient, and that's very gratifying."

It also lets the doctors explore new ways of treatment. One of their patients was

The team created a facial prosthetic to help her eat.

"Its being creative. Giving us another tool to fix problems that before we just kind of accepted," said Dr. Snowdon. "Where it ends up is anybody's guess, but it will continue to evolve over the next couple of years."