Wednesday 29 July 2015

When Veterinary Medicine and 3D printing meet each other

TV story with English subtitle

The Brazilian Team of Forensic Anthropology and Forensic Dentistry (Ebrafol) was founded in 2014. Comprising a number of liberal professionals, mostly belonging to the field of Dentistry, it always sought a shortcut using the know-how of its members and considering the necessity of the Brazilian population for relevant applications. Even before the Ebrafol started, we (me and Dr. Paulo Miamoto) had already worked a handful of partnerships and they would contemplate not only the human population but also other animals.

TV Story with English subtitle
In the second half of 2013 we have met the Veterinarian Dr. Roberto Fecchio. He was well known for his mastery in saving the lives of many animals and bringing dignity and quality of life to them. Rebuilt beaks, perfectly fitting prosthesis, and implanted well treated teeth. And I mean animals ranging from a small rodent to a scary feline, whether a Guinea pig or a lion, there would be Dr. Fecchio and his staff, caring for and rehabilitating them.
When I meet Dr. Fecchio (at center) at Sao Paulo University (USP)

It seems a short period, but since 2013 a lot has happened. In the meantime, regarding skills in computer graphics applied to human and animal health, our knowledge advanced quite a bit. Since 2013, Dr. Fecchio would motivate us to develop 3D-printed prosthetic beaks, but at that time we just did not have the necessary know-how to actually model them, nor the equipment to print them.

The red-footed tortoise (Chelonoidis carbonaria) "Fred" in the surgery home

That changed a few weeks ago. Dr. Paulo Miamoto purchased a 3D printer. The goal was to explore it for scientific studies and commercial printing. All was very new, interesting and unknown.

Wealthy tortoise scanned (wireframe) and Fred inside it.

Upon learning about the 3D printer, Dr. Fecchio, always at the forefront, proposed that we participated in a project with him, from Santos-SP, and other team, from Brasília-DF. The case was about a poor tortoise, who had been the victim of a bushfire in the Brazilian plains. The flames injured her hoof and she lost a considerable part of its structure. Luckily the animal was rescued and taken barely alive to the hands of Dr. Rodrigo Rabello, whom with the aid of his brother Dr. Matheus Rabello, successfully treated and healed two pneumonia episodes and other diseases caused by the animal’s deficient immune system.

System of matching

Although the tortoise regained stable health, she tortoise found herself in big trouble. She had no hoof as the bony plates that were left fell off and gave her a shelled egg-like aspect, with only a thin membrane which could be perforated quite easily.

Hoof exploded

That’s when Dr. Fecchio stepped in, proposing the partnership and finding himself quite content with everybody’s agreement to participate in this project.

I figured the reconstruction of the hoof could be made using a simple methodology. First we would do a 3D scan of the tortoise who had lost the hoof. The technique used is called photogrammetry. Roughly, we took several pictures of the animal, sent them to a computational algorithm and it reconstructed the 3D volume. Then we did the same with a healthy tortoise hoof. This way, we digitized the 3D volumes of the tortoise without a hoof and the healthy hoof. Then, we would just have to proceed with Boolean calculations and, a structure that fits the sick animal is obtained.

Printed part

Of course we had a lot of problems in the process. The hoof had to be printed in 4 parts because we did not know if Dr. Paulo’s printer would finish the job in time. That’s why we divided it into four pieces, so that we could hire companies or people who offered this service in case we had any problems with 3D printing. Fortunately, 3D prints were successful, although this process wasn’t quite quick. It took five days of almost uninterrupted printing for the hoof to get ready. After that, we had an unpleasant surprise upon cleaning the support material created by the printer. In the joint areas it was very difficult to remove it. Thanks to the help of Dr. Paulo Esteves, an experienced Dentist, cleaning the support material was possible and everything went smoothly well.

Te team after surgery (I'm on the grayscale photo)

The surgery was covered by the largest Brazilian TV station, Rede Globo. The procedure was a success and at the end Fred the tortoise, received a new hoof and it wasn’t necessary to screw it to bony parts of her body, as a photogrammetry provided a high precision scanning of the area and made possible a very nice adaptation of the prosthesis.

Steps of surgery - toucan

Meanwhile, another case had been handled by the team. Zeca, The toucan, broke his beak when he hit a window. A homologous prosthesis was installed using a cadaver beak adapted to the fracture, which is a common practice in veterinary medicine. Unfortunately, Zeca’s “new” beak could not stand a very high load and broke. Upon seeing that the toucan had lost his beak, Dr. Fecchio proposed reviving the first project that we developed together, back in the pre-Ebrafol period, i.e., to create digitized beak prosthesis. Inspired by the successful surgery, we got back in track and to our complete joy, everything worked out and Zeca is fully adapted to his new beak!

Our team is very happy and honored for all that has happened. Besides the feeling of nobility and accomplishment, we are also proud of accomplishing everything using free and open software. Photogrammetry was done with PPT-GUI, and 3D modeling was done in Blender. We used Cork for Boolean calculations and sliced the mesh for printing with Slic3r.

We barely enjoyed the taste of success and we are already engaged in a new project. Soon we'll post more news, see you!


Dr. Everton da Rosa, which made possible my trip to Brasilia to meet the Rabello doctors and participate in Fantástico, Brazil’s most popular Sunday TV show. Claudio Marques Sampaio (patola) to help us with 3D printing. Denise Oltramari, which provided us with one of the tortoises she takes care of for photogrammetry. Dr. Gilbert Bernstein to develope the powefull Cork, the boolean standalone used to create the prosthesis. Daniel Ludwig and Lis Caroline for the aid in the process of photography (photogrammetry). Giovanna Leite Soares and Dr. Paulo Miamoto, who assisted us with translations into English. To all the news crews that documented this project while respecting the scientific aspects and highlighting the importance of such initiatives for the sake of animals.

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