May 15, 2015 | By Alec

While we’ve reported a number of unusual but heartwarming stories about pets receiving 3D printed leg implants to make their lives easier already, a new case from Turkey definitely takes the cake. There, a Loggerhead Sea Turtle was recently rescued from the Mediterranean and brought to the Sea Turtle Research, Rescue and Rehabilitation Center at Pamukkale University (PAU). Unable to eat and thus to survive, its rescuers gave the turtle a 3D printed jaw implant to give it a second chance.

The turtle, which its rescuers named AKUT3, is a Loggerhead Sea Turtle, which is one of common turtle species and can be found in most coastal areas of the world. While not endangered, this does mean that the Loggerhead’s natural habitats are increasingly being overrun by people, which is what caused this dreadful injury to AKUT3’s face. While not exactly sure what happened, the rescuers told Turkish reporters that the turtle received its severe facial injuries from a boat propeller, which also left it lifelessly floating on the surface of the water.

While the medical team at PAU was able to nurse it back to health, they found that the turtle could hardly eat himself. Small fish were force-fed down the turtle’s throat to ensure it survived, but that’s a laborious and stressful process for everyone involved. While usually a temporary solution, the damage was judged to severe to ever enable the turtle to eat independently again. Fortunately, 3D printing technology came to the fore during a meeting, and the center’s director Professor Yakup Kaska decided it was the best hope the 45 kg Sea Turtle had.

Turning to Turkish 3 printing specialists BTech Innovation, who specialize in 3D printed medical applications such as implants, models and prostheses, the PAU team received a warm welcome. BTech’s CEO Kuntay Aktaş decided that the company would do all they could for free. Using the high quality Mimics Innovation Suite from Materialise, BTech’s team turned a series of CT scans of the turtle into 3D printed models, all the while closely cooperating with veterinarians and surgeons to ensure the 3D printedresult could actually be implanted.

As you can imagine, this was no easy feat. Design itself reportedly took about two months as there were many details and corrections to take in consideration. As the company’s CEO told reporters, they were fortunately able to use and modify existing models intended for humans. ‘The upper and lower jaw were already ready before the turtle came in, as they were designed for humans. The animal’s anatomy is fortunately slightly comparable,’ he said. Murat Curve, who led the design team, added that this was a very unusual and challenging, but exciting design process.

3D printed in medical grade titanium, the resultant jaw implant was successfully implanted during an hours-long surgery that was closely watched by a whole audience of veterinarians and surgeons. Fortunately, the surgery was a success. According to professor Anas M. Anderson, who headed the surgical team, the turtle showed absolutely no signs of rejecting the implant and was responding well to antibiotics as well. While still recovering from the surgery that took place in April, this lucky turtle – believed to be the first turtle in the world to benefit from 3D printing technology – will be released back into the wild in the near future.

Report of the Sea Turtle's surgery (in Turkish).

 

Posted in 3D Printing Applications

 

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