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Print job: Public-private partnership results in a veterinary breakthrough

Zoo veterinarians, university researchers and biomedical firm teamed up to save the life of a cancer-stricken great Indian hornbill.

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Crescent, a 25-year-old great Indian hornbill who resides at ZooTampa at Lowry Park, has been given a new, 3D-printed bone — and a new lease on life — thanks to a groundreaking, first-of-its kind collaboration between Massachusetts-based biomedical firm Formlabs, the University of South Florida Morsani College of Medicine’s Department of Radiology, Tampa General Hospital and the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine.

ZooTampa researchers, according to a news release, detected an unusual lesion at the back of Crescent’s casque, a bony extension of the bird’s skull. It indicated the presence of a form of skin cancer, known as squamous cell carcinoma, that’s usually fatal for hornbills. The condition can also affect humans but is easily treated and not nearly as deadly.

However, a CT scan revealed that the tumor was in a location that made a traditional surgical extraction too much of a risk.

“This tumor is typically found near the front of the casque in hornbills, but hers was in the back,” states Dr. Kendra Baker, associate veterinarian at ZooTampa, in the release. Removing the tumor, Baker explains, would have exposed a highly sensitive area of Crescent’s casque that contained the three-foot-tall bird’s sinuses.

Courtesy. Crescent's surgical team replaced the bird's casque in late January.
Courtesy. Crescent's surgical team replaced the bird's casque in late January.

Enter FormLabs. The firm was in the process of developing a product called BioMed White Resin, a photocurable material that can be used to print biocompatible parts for prosthetic devices. Formlabs donated the material, and the USF Health Radiology 3D team printed a surgical guide and new casque on a Formlabs 3D printer developed for health care use. They also created a 3D-printed replica of Crescent’s head so they could perform the operation virtually before attempting the real thing, because such a procedure had been attempted only once before, by a veterinary surgeon in Singapore.

“Using surgical cutting guides based on CT scan images took the guesswork out of how much casque to remove and allowed us to leave as much healthy tissue as possible,” states lead surgeon Dr. Alex Fox-Alvarez, an assistant professor at the UF College of Veterinary Medicine, in the release. “This was a great collaborative effort to be a part of.”

Crescent received her new casque in late January, and now she’s back in her home in an outdoor aviary at ZooTampa, where staff members say she’s recovering well, with no changes in her behavior, appetite or vocalizations.

In an unplanned but serendipitous twist, the Formlabs resin proved to be a perfect match for the yellow preening oils that help keep hornbills’ casques bright and shiny — “a unique, unexpected benefit that warmed the hearts of everyone involved,” Formlabs Medical Market Development Director Gaurav Manchanda states in the release.


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