A recent procedure where researchers 3D-printed a custom titanium skull for a cancer-stricken dachshund may serve as a breakthrough for the future of reconstructive surgery.

The procedure, the first of its kind in North America, involved the removal of a large cancerous tumor from the dog’s skull — a process that left behind gaps in over 70% of the dog’s skull. The team then 3D printed an implant to restore those gaps.

"The technology has grown so quickly, and to be able to offer this incredible, customized, state-of-the-art plate in one of our canine patients was really amazing,” said Dr. Michelle Oblak from Ontario Veterinary College.

Oblak worked with the University of Guelph’s rapid prototyping of patient-specific implants for dogs (RaPPID) team to map the location and size of the tumor. Using that information, an engineer from Sheridan College’s Centre for Advanced Manufacturing Design and Technologies, built a 3D model of the dog’s skull. To determine what would be left of the skull after surgery, Oblak “virtually” performed the surgery.

“I was able to do the surgery before I even walked into the operating room,” said Oblak.

Once mapped, Oblak contacted ADEISS, a London-based 3D medical printing company, to 3D print the implant, which was customized to fit in place much like a puzzle piece.

“This is major for tumor reconstruction in many places on the head, limb prosthesis, developmental deformities after fractures and other traumas,” said Oblak.

Calling the process safer as well as more effective, Oblak is hoping that the technology can one day be applied to humans.

“By performing these procedures in our animal patients, we can provide valuable information that can be used to show the value and safety of these implants for humans," Oblak said. "These implants are the next big leap in personalized medicine that allows for every element of an individual’s medical care to be specifically tailored to their particular needs.”

For more on the procedure, watch the accompanying video that appears courtesy of Guelph University.

To contact the author of this article, email mdonlon@globalspec.com