New prostheses for animals through 3D printing
FGUSAL/DICYT The Polytechnic Higher School of Zamora from the University of Salamanca has developed a project that design tailored 3D prostheses for pets and other animals. This technology opens up new possibilities for veterinary clinics.
The origin of the idea was a specific request that the university received from a veterinary clinic in Salamanca, directed by Carlos Salinero. A cat was missing the left rear extremity at the level of the tibia and the vet thought that maybe the scientists could do something for her.
The Department of Mechanical Engineering started the project led by Professor Roberto José García Martín. His student, Miguel Clemente Sánchez saw the opportunity to do a Final Degree Project (TFG) different from what is usual in this field. "We have designed a product to solve the problem and achieve a very positive social impact," he says. The TCUE program of Castilla y León regional Government provided the project with resources through the Market-Oriented Prototypes and Proof of Concept calls, both managed by the General Foundation of the University of Salamanca.
The first phase was perhaps the most complicated because we were in a field in which "we had little knowledge and there were hardly any previous experiences. So that, it was difficult to generate these first prototypes", points out Miguel Clemente.
After consulting the bibliography of this field, the researchers made a cast from the animal limb to carry out some tests. Then they designed models in the computer with specialized programs and opted for 3D printing to generate the final prosthesis.
The result has demonstrated the viability of this system for manufacturing prostheses, which have already been successfully tested. In addition, the project has also allowed exploring possibilities in terms of fixing solutions.
New technologies for the veterinarian sector
"One of the main characteristics of the TCUE call for Concept Tests is the requirement of marketable results. To be able to obtain a product that can be sold. In this case, the introduction of 3D printing in the veterinary system has been the main innovative feature", states the researcher.
Regardless of the specific case of the cat that serves as a starting point for the project, this initiative can be used to make prostheses for many other animals, such as dogs, birds and even aquatic species. Researchers also believe that they have laid the foundations to develop other types of biomechanical products, for example, orthoses such as splints and other devices, as well as internal elements with advanced materials.
"The idea is to create a new market based on this technology," says Miguel Clemente. In fact, in the medical sector, they are already designing this type of products with the help of 3D printing. "In this case, our project would be for the veterinarian the equivalent of a dental technician for the dentist, because what we do is to provide him with tools so that he can help his client, who would be our final user," he adds.
Concern for animal welfare
In a society that is increasingly concerned about animal welfare, researchers at the Higher Polytechnic School of Zamora trust that this project can respond to this demand and, therefore, have a long journey. In this way, knowledge generated in the university is transferred and business opportunities are opened.