Cutting Edge Technology Helps Veterinary Surgeons and their Patients
This past October a new veterinary medical innovation was announced by the University of Tennessee Veterinary Medical Center: 3-D printers are now being used to improve patient care for animals. In the past when an animal sustained an injury, especially a complicated orthopedic trauma, surgeries could take hours to perform stabilization and repair. For the anesthetized patient, time is a precious commodity. In animals complications similar to those seen in human patients can develop with prolonged general anesthesia. Utilization of 3-D printer technology allows veterinary surgeons the ability to plan their surgical approach and repair as well as practice it in advance of surgery which translates into better patient care! Assistant Professor, Dr. Kyle Snowden describes the technique this way: “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…It’s 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.”
So how does this all work in practical terms? Essentially a computed tomography or CT scan of the patient is performed to create a superior imaging of the disrupted patient anatomy. CT is a computer processed compilation of radiographic images taken at different angles to produce a cross-sectional image of the area of interest which are highly detailed and virtual thin slices of thicknesses typically between 1 and 3 mm. What does all this detail mean? Essentially a near exact replica of the patient’s injury or injuries can generated through digital image transferred to a 3-D printer. Surgeons then use this replica to strategize the best method of repair for their patients in advance reducing anesthesia time and improving patient recovery time. This method also saves the pet owning consumer money as less time under anesthesia means decreased use of medications and reduced risk of often expensive complications.
Surgeons often describe themselves as creative individuals whose working medium is living tissue. 3-D printer technology is definitely proving to be a new and useful tool that is anticipated to evolve in its application to veterinary medicine needs in the coming years.