Customised canine tumour treatment is “next big leap in personalised medicine”

Vets have removed a tumour from a dog’s skull and replaced it with a custom-built 3D printed titanium implant, an advance that could lead to more personalised medical care for humans.

Pre-op Patches

In her translational research, Dr Michelle Oblak from Ontario Veterinary College at the University of Guelph is examining dogs as a disease model for cancer in humans. She is studying the use of rapid prototyping for advance planning of surgeries and 3D printed implants for reconstruction, using the University of Guelph’s rapid prototyping of patient-specific implants for dogs (RaPPID) working group.

“The technology has grown so quickly, and to be able to offer this incredible, customised, state-of-the-art plate in one of our canine patients was really amazing,” said Oblak, assistant co-director of the U of G’s Institute for Comparative Cancer Investigation.

Oblak performed the procedure on Patches the dachshund with Dr. Galina Hayes at Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine in Ithaca, New York. Hayes had asked Oblak for advice on how best to treat the dog’s tumour, a multilobular osteochondrosarcoma that had grown so large that it was weighing down the dog’s head and growing into her skull.

Working with the RaPPID team at OVC, Oblak mapped the tumour’s location and size. She worked with an engineer from Sheridan College’s Centre for Advanced Manufacturing Design and Technologies to create a 3D model of the dog’s head and tumour so she could “virtually” perform the surgery and see what would be left behind once the growth was removed.

“I was able to do the surgery before I even walked into the operating room,” said Oblak.

Oblak determined the dimensions of the portion of skull that needed to be replaced, then worked with ADEISS, a 3D medical printing company in London, Ontario, to adapt software designed for human medicine. They then created Patches’ skull plate.

Surgeries of this kind typically take a long time, said Oblak. Once the portion of skull is removed, surgeons must assess the damage and shape titanium mesh over the spot. The 3D printed plate is said to have fit into place perfectly. For these surgeries, said Oblak, the technique will eliminate the need to model an implant in the operating room and reduce patient risk by shortening the time spent under anaesthesia.

Oblak and Hayes had to replace about 70 per cent of the top surface of the dog’s skull, which left the brain unprotected over a large area.

“This is major for tumour reconstruction in many places on the head, limb prosthesis, developmental deformities after fractures and other traumas,” said Oblak. “In human medicine, there is a lag in use of the available technology while regulations catch up. By performing these procedures in our animal patients, we can provide valuable information that can be used to show the value and safety of these implants for humans. These implants are the next big leap in personalised medicine that allows for every element of an individual’s medical care to be specifically tailored to their particular needs.”