3D printed neck bones a revolution in equine vet training

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Anatomical models of the equine neck, created by 3D printing, are revolutionising how veterinary students and graduates practice the precise placement required in ultrasound-guided injections.

(A) Cervical vertebrae placed in a tray following natural dissection by beetle digestion. (B) 3D printed models of cervical vertebrae and a box, made of Vero resin. (C) Silicon mold obtained following the addition of Mold Max 20 to the 3D printed box shown in B. (D) Dissected vertebrae were inserted into the silicon mold in C, and fixated in anatomical alignment with epoxy.
(A) Cervical vertebrae placed in a tray following natural dissection by beetle digestion. (B) 3D printed models of cervical vertebrae and a box, made of Vero resin. (C) Silicon mold obtained following the addition of Mold Max 20 to the 3D printed box shown in B. (D) Dissected vertebrae were inserted into the silicon mold in C, and fixated in anatomical alignment with epoxy. © Zur Linden, Beaulieu et al.

Radiologist and Ontario Veterinary College researcher Dr Alex zur Linden teamed up with John Phillips, PhD Engineer and director of 3D printing at the University of Guelph’s Digital Haptic Lab, to come up with some exciting models that are the first of their kind in the veterinary field.

“We hope the research to create these models will serve as a resource for the scientific community to make similar models,” zur Linden said.

In 2019, he published a paper on the research with his graduate student Alexandre Beaulieu.

Ultrasound-guided injections are a common method of treating osteoarthritis in the equine cervical vertebrae. Typically, training for this procedure uses cadavers which is a race against time itself. Add to that a delay in gaining feedback on the results and the advantages of a 3D printed model become clear.

Since 2018, zur Linden and his team have been working with Phillips, testing 13 different types of materials and printers in combination to compare which model would work best to simulate real bone using ultrasound. Six of the materials proved suitable for simulating bone or joints for use with ultrasound. The team has succeeded in creating model vertebrae of the equine neck and embedded them in ballistics gel to simulate the soft tissues surrounding the bones. These models will give the veterinary community the opportunity to practice ultrasound-guided procedures with instant feedback. The models are completely reusable:  Once the lab practice is complete, the model can be melted down to remove all needle tracks and it is ready to go for the next use.

“To create one of these models, the design engineer has the most time-consuming job,” zur Linden said.

“Once we have a CT scan, a few weeks will be spent using software to segment out the anatomy that is to be printed. The printing of the model only takes 3 to 6 hours.”

Post-processing may involve removing supports, removing excess resin and curing to reveal a model that closely mimics bone. Then the 3D printed models can be embedded in clear ballistics gel to mimic skin and muscle, and degassed to remove all gas bubbles.

There is great potential for this technology to enhance student learning and to improve the quality of care for the patients. CT scans from unique cases could be used to create models that would provide vet students opportunities to practice with an array of abnormalities.

“This project, funded by Equine Guelph, afforded the opportunity to work with so many different printers and materials,” zur Linden said.

“I am looking forward to sharing results and collaborating with other researchers, working on more challenging and different models including constructing blood vessels and airways for interventional radiology procedures.”

Summary of the materials and methods for the ultrasonographic evaluation of 3D printed models.
Summary of the materials and methods for the ultrasonographic evaluation of 3D printed models. © Zur Linden, Beaulieu et al.

 

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