3D printing was developed by MIT in the 1980s. Since then, it has been used to generate graphene components, recreate an ancient king’s skeleton, and manufacture sensors that can sniff out spoiled food.
Another important use — giving animals a better quality of life.
Back in May, I wrote a blog about wild and domestic animals who have received 3D-printed prosthetics. The artificial body parts ranged from tortoise shells, to bird beaks, to legs for a pet dog. Some of the animals suffered injuries in the wild or at the hands of man, such as a toucan who was cruelly beaten by a group of young people and a bald eagle who had its beak shot off by a hunter. The dog who received an artificial pair of front legs was born with a deformity that wouldn’t allow him to run and play like his canine friends.
Now, we can add Cicely the chicken to that list.
The three month-old Leghorn hen from Boston can’t walk properly due to a slipped tendon that wasn’t fixed when she was a chick. The foot is curled around, causing the chicken to hobble. Rather than euthanize Cicely, her owners decided to replace the useless leg with a 3D-printed prosthesis.
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Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University is handling the surgery. The veterinary school has reported that an Aug. 5 operation to partially amputate the leg was successful, but the bird still has “a long way to go.” During the surgery, the chicken was placed under general anesthesia and the medical team made a copy of her good foot using a CT scan. The scan will enable them to make a 3D-printed, plastic prosthetic which they will attach to the chicken in a few weeks.
3D printing is used for humans all the time. At the most recent INTERPHEX New York show, I attended a session on 3D-printed medical devices and surgical aids, such as a replacement jaw for a young man who had a tumor removed from his skull as well as a model that guided surgeons as they prepared to separate twins conjoined at the head.
But is a $2,500 for a chicken’s artificial leg really worth it? A chicken’s average life span (assuming she isn’t butchered) is seven to eight years. The Associated Press reports that similar surgeries have been conducted on a duck and a rooster, but not on a chicken. Yes, this procedure will be revolutionary, but what can we learn from it? Perhaps the research will be valuable when dealing with other birds, or even humans.
I’m an animal lover who’s shared my home with cats, a dog, fish, and rodents over the years … but I’m also a Costco member who regularly purchases the $4.99 rotisserie chicken when I just don’t feel like cooking dinner after work. Spending $2,500 on an artificial leg for a chicken is a bizarre concept to me. Nevertheless, it’s certainly admirable of her owners to devote such care to an animal, and the work being done by Tufts is impressive. It will be interesting to see what knowledge can be obtained from this process.