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Cassidy, a tuxedo kitten with a white mustache and socks, lost his hind limbs from below the knee at birth. When he was found starving after nine weeks, his wounds infected with E. coli, the emergency vet recommended euthanasia. But Shelly Roche refused to give up on him. She runs the TinyKittens rescue operated out of Fort Langley, B.C., Canada, that specializes in lost causes. She nursed him back to health, with the Internet cheering him on. This video shows Cassidy walking with a leash and harness to hold up his rear end, then getting a little wheelchair and finally running around and bounding off his rear leg stumps. Cassidy as a young kitten trying his 3D printed wheelchair. Photo credit: CatChannel.com Two local high school students made him a wheelchair using their school’s 3D printer. This was not the last time 3D printing would help Cassidy. Handicapped Pets Canada also provided one that he used up until recently. Now that Cassidy has outgrown his wheelchairs, he gets around riding Roche’s Roomba. But the Roomba is only a temporary solution. Cassidy is being fitted for prosthetic leg extensions. Last week, in the first step toward receiving prosthetics, Cassidy got Botox injections to relax the muscles of his rear legs, for ongoing physical therapy. Roche said of Cassidy’s prosthetics, "I'm not sure if they use titanium or carbon fiber. I'm not sure what the end-point will be. I tell people he's going to get fancy new bionic legs." That will be up to Dr. Denis Marcellin-Little and the team at North Carolina State University working on Cassidy’s prosthetics. Marcellin-Little is an expert in custom prosthetics and physical therapy. Like a real-life Dr. House for dogs and cats, Dr. Marcellin-Little gets the most challenging cases, where existing methods cannot provide treatment, so he and an international team of collaborators develop new ones. The process for building a custom implant starts with a CT scan. Then, 3D-printed models of bones may be made. Marcellin-Little has over a decade-long collaboration with Dr. Ola Harrysson of the department of Industrial Systems and Engineering building implants. Marcellin-Little and Harrysson have invented a technique called osseointegration, where a titanium implant gets attached directly to bone via a honeycombed surface the bone grows to fill. The implant itself is made using a type of metal 3D printing called electron beam melting (EBM) where titanium powder is melted in successive layers to make the object. Several news articles have mentioned the cost of Cassidy’s care. $10,000 has been spent on Cassidy already. The implant procedures can cost up to $20,000 per leg. The procedure does not only benefit a single animal. Marcellin-Little talks of translating the technique to human patients “All the progress we make in free-form fabrication very quickly gets translated to human prosthetic research. Free-form transdermal osseointegration will cross over at some point to human patients.”
Professor Noel Fitzpatrick is one of the most prominent doctors of veterinary medicine in the UK. Featured on the show The Supervet on Channel 4, Fitzpatrick performs live-saving operations for people’s beloved pets, often making use of advanced technologies like 3D printing in his procedures. Despite his skills, Fitzpatrick says whether or not to keep animals alive is a moral decision, more than a scientific assessment. He says that 3D printing and other technological advancements have made it so he can cure nearly any pet’s ailment, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he should. Fitzpatrick told recently that he and other vets have an obligation to focus on the value their services bring to the pet’s future quality of life before deciding to subject them to invasive surgeries. His veterinary practice located in Surrey has been among the first to use advanced medical techniques such as creating bionic legs for people’s pets. He also said that no matter how much money he might receive by performing complex operations, he takes the time to consider which outcome will be best for the animal before agreeing to do it. He said, “The bottom line now is that anything is possible, if you have a blood and nerve supply.” “That means that we now have a line in the sand: not what is ‘possible’ but what is ‘right.’ In the past it was just the case of if it wasn't possible, you'd move to euthanasia.” Dr. Fitzpatrick said ever since he began using 3D printed joints with living tissue as part of his procedures, he spends every day walking a moral tightrope. At the same time, he thinks animals are very deserving of the most modern medical technologies, given the role they played in drug and medical testing for human medicine historically. “They've given us all their lives for research, quite simply it's time to give something back.” The Supervet is returning to TV with a new series featuring Dr. Fitzpatrick’s treatment of Jersey, the first three-legged cat to ever have a hip replacement. Jersey lost a leg after being hit by a car. Fitzpatrick needed to create a new hip that moved in a unique way so she could balance on three legs alone. He said, “It was a sweet cat. She had a slipping kneecap and really severe hip arthritis. Most cats can manage three legs but this one couldn’t." Jersey’s medications weren’t helping her, which is why her owner wanted to pursue a compete hip replacement. Dr. Fitzpatrick said, “It would have been easy to put her to sleep. Was that the right choice? The other options for pain control were suboptimal. But it worked.” Jersey’s story is just one of many unique cases featured on The Supervet, often involving novel medical solutions with the help of 3D printing. Image Credits: DailyMail, Supervet