Penn Compact 2020/

Integrate Knowledge: 3D Printing for Veterinary Surgeries

In PennDesign’s Fabrication Lab, students and faculty use three-dimensional printers to craft geometric forms, architectural models, and other products of the imagination. But in a recent collaboration with the School of Veterinary Medicine, the printers have been put to work making models based very much on reality.

After examining a skull deformity afflicting a canine patient named Millie, Evelyn Galban, a neurosurgeon and lecturer in Penn Vet’s Department of Clinical Studies-Philadelphia, thought it would be useful to physically handle a replica of the dog’s skull.

“It’s difficult to fully understand the malformation until we have it in our hands,” she says. “That usually doesn’t happen until we’re in surgery.”

That’s where the expertise of PennDesign’s Stephen Smeltzer and Dennis Pierattini came in. They have partnered with Galban, along with veterinary neurology residents Jon Wood and Leontine Benedicenti, to produce models that precisely replicate injuries or deformities of pet dogs and cats. Such applications have the potential to improve training and patient care at Penn Vet, while stretching the imaginations of PennDesign students and faculty.

“We are very interested in finding more ways that we can explore the potential of the equipment and fathom its depths,” says Pierattini.

After the veterinarians transformed CAT scan files into a format that the 3D printers could recognize, out came the skull of Millie, composed of gypsum powder bound by acrylic and sealed with a super glue-like substance to make it rigid.

These models could help vets like Evelyn Galban plot out and practice surgical procedures in advance of an operation. Full-color models may even allow for testing new approaches that avoid contact with critical blood vessels and other tissues.

Meanwhile, at PennDesign, Smeltzer is expanding his sense of the potential of 3D printed materials.

“These objects have opened up to have applications in the real world, and that’s fascinating and enjoyable to see. Last week I had no idea that this was going to be happening, and now all of a sudden I have a vested interest in Millie.”

View photos on Flickr.
Read full story on upenn.edu.

Text by Katherine Unger Baillie
Photos by Scott Spitzer and John Donges
Video courtesy of Penn Vet