Nov 29, 2016 | By Nick

Yale University researcher Christine Lattin has used 3D printing and scanning to study stress in house sparrows. The researcher believes her work could be used to develop more effective treatments for humans suffering from chronic stress. 

Unlike mice and rats—animals commonly used for animal testing—the wild house sparrow is not conditioned to deal with captivity. Because of this, the bird's stress response to captivity is a more realistic analogy to human stress in similar situations. Christine Lattin, a biomedical engineering and radiology researcher at Yale University, wanted to learn about extreme stress in house sparrows while testing a number of treatments aimed at reducing that stress, in the hope that one day her results could be used to treat chronic stress amongst humans.

"I think captivity is potentially a really powerful kind of model for chronic stress," Lattin said. "A bird brought into captivity is in some ways not that different from a person who's suddenly thrown into a totally alien and stressful environment, like a soldier in combat or a child taken to a foster family. It's an alien environment, and it's highly stressful. That's one reason I'm interested in using the birds."

To measure the stress responses of the house sparrows, Lattin needed to obtain detailed 3D scans of each bird’s brain using Positron Emission Topography (PET), but to do that the researcher needed to keep the birds still. Doing so is easy enough with a mouse or rat, but harder with a delicate and constantly flapping bird.

To keep the bird still, Lattin needed a firm yet harmless brace. Unfortunately, there is no standard model for birds as there is for mice and rats, so researchers tend to simply anaesthetize the bird and wrap it in gauze before taking the scans. This is time consuming, can be more stressful for the animal, and simply isn’t a precise way of working. Lattin recalled having to cancel one session after just 10 minutes, because she could not monitor a bird’s breathing.

Looking for a solution to her problems, Lattin asked Max Emerson at the Yale Center of Engineering to design and produce a custom 3D printed cradle for the house sparrows. The brief was simple: the bird must remain completely still during the scanning process, because a bird’s brain is so small that even a slight twitch can lead to a low-quality PET image. Emerson came up with the goods, providing Lattin with a 3D printed cradle that suits a standard position for each and every bird and eliminates movement.

The finished 3D printed cradle includes a notch that accommodates the bird’s neck and reproduces a "bander’s grip," which is generally considered the best way to hold a bird. There’s also a cone connected to a tube that pumps in the anaesthetic, and a series of complementary notches for the syringes that introduce the drugs and radioactive tracer.

To make life as easy as possible for Lattin and her team, Emerson also fitted a series of anchors to the 3D printed cradle that attach to the scanner bed. This ensures the team always has the bird in the same position, even on different days. The lightweight plastic nature of the cradle is another benefit in itself, too, as denser materials like metal can interfere with the PET images.

Using the standardized and inert 3D printed cradle meant that the researchers spent a lot less time processing the data and preparing the birds for each study. It’s also safer for the birds, as it restricts their head movement without putting any pressure on the abdomen, meaning they can breathe freely. Lattin still anaesthetizes the birds during the procedure, but the 3D printed cradle has given her the confidence to apply lighter doses of anaesthetic. The cradle is also designed to allow the team to monitor the bird’s breathing more closely, so that they can spot if a bird is in trouble sooner rather than later.

With the help of Emerson's 3D printed cradle, Lattin has been able to carry out some experiments, gathering more accurate results while also making life a lot easier for the animal test subjects. However, the team plans to keep creating new 3D printed versions of the device until the best results are achieved. In order to carry out the experiments even faster, the researchers are even planning to create a two-bird cradle.

Animal testing is still a part and parcel of the research world, although 3D printing is helping to create culture cells and even vast tracts of organ tissue that can help cut down and eventually eliminate testing on animals. In the meantime, some of the sharpest minds in medicine, research, and engineering have come together to make animal testing more humane, more accurate, and cheaper. Regardless of your stance on animal testing, these are undoubtedly steps in the right direction.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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Gekcohale wrote at 5/27/2017 4:07:13 AM:

If you haven't figured it out since 2008 and are torturing, injuring & killing that many birds, you should start to think about doing something useful with your life instead of this.

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