July 27, 2015 | By Kira

Modern technologies have opened the door for a new era of veterinary medicine, according to a dedicated team of animal-lovers in Santos, São Paulo, who recently used 3D printing technology to save a tortoise’s life. The team, consisting of a veterinary surgeon, a dentist, and a graphic designer, spent three months designing and printing an entirely 3D printed prosthetic as a complete replacement for the original.

The popular current affairs program Fantástico reports that Fred, the red-footed tortoise from Brasilia, was found near-death after a horrific forest fire almost completely destroyed her shell. Tortoises rely on their tough exteriors to protect them from predators, from the sun, and from harmful elements in their surroundings, such as cactus spikes. Without a healthy shell, Fred was at risk of injury, illness and possibly death.

The animal was brought to Rodrigo Rabello, a passionate veterinarian in the area, who immediately felt the need to help. “When we saw the animal in that state, we said ‘It looks like Freddy Krueger!” he said, in reference to the extensive damage on the tortoise’s back. It wasn’t until after he began treatment that he realized Fred was in fact a female. Nevertheless, the name stuck, and Rabello enlisted the help of three specialists from all across Brazil to come to the rescue.

The first stop was Mato Grosso, a state in the mid-west. Here, graphic designer Cicero Moreas photographed a healthy tortoise from all angles, taking about 40 photos in total. He then compared them to roughly the same photographs of Fred, and scanned them into a 3D computer program in order to graphically reconstruct a new shell with Fred’s exact measurements. That information was then sent to Paulo Miamoto, a dentist from the coastal city of Santos, who was in charge of printing the design. He used a desktop 3D printer and durable PLA material. “Just for this piece, it took us 50 hours of printing, much more than we imagined,” said Miamoto, holding up one of the four pieces of the prosthetic. In total, it took almost a full week before all four pieces were printed and polished.

Meanwhile, Fred began the long journey from Brasilia to Santos, where her surgery would take place. The surgery, performed by experienced veterinarian Roberto Fecchio, was tense, but in the end the 3D printed shell fit so perfectly, they did not even have to use screws to keep it in place. 

While he have previously seen Cleopatra the tortoise receive a 3D printed shell prosthetic, that one was only intended to cover her existing shell while it healed. Fred, however, is the first-ever tortoise to receive a completely 3D printed shell as a replacement. “This is a milestone with regard to these procedures in veterinary medicine,” said Rodrigo. “From now on we will have a new era, particularly when it comes to treating wild animals.”

After the tense surgery and a nasty bout of pneumonia, Fred is recovering very well and is able to freely roam the garden, bathe in the sun, and retreat into her brand new 3D printed ‘home.’ Since this is the first shell of its kind, the doctors aren’t sure how long it will hold up or how soon it will need to be replaced, so Fred won’t be released back into the wild just yet. However her transformation isn’t quite over. Several Brazilian artists have offered to paint the white PLA shell so that it looks more natural and realistic.

This isn’t the first time modern technology has come to the aid of Brazilian wildlife. Fecchio, the same surgeon who worked on Fred, recently operated on a Toucan who had broken its beak after flying into a window, carefully attaching a replacement beak so that the bird could re-integrate into the wild. In addition, a flamingo that had had its leg amputated due to infection received a carbon fiber prosthetic from a zoo in São Paulo, and is once again able to walk on its own.

For each of these animals, their chances of survival without medical intervention were slim, however thanks to the dedication of the doctors, and the creative use of modern technologies, each was given a new lease on life. “Our satisfaction is total,” said Rabello. “We will strive to save every life, whatever it may be.”



Posted in 3D Printing Applications



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Jordi 3Dman wrote at 7/27/2015 7:06:58 PM:

If they had made it from Purement PLA filament it would also be antimicrobial.

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