Bionic Animals

29 July 2015

by Mark Spain Senior Associate

I was reading around recently and came across an article about a turtle. I don’t particularly like turtles, they’re alright, but what really stood out in this story about a turtle was the fact that technology had been used to save its life. Swimming in the sea off Turkey’s coast, this endangered loggerhead turtle was struck by a boat propeller and in the accident lost part of its jaw, making it unable to eat.

Luckily however, a team of doctors and researchers were able to save the turtle – and with help from a Turkish biotechnology company called BTech, they gave it a new jaw. The new jaw was custom built to fit the turtle and was made from titanium, but possibly the most impressive part of this rescue story was that a 3D printer was used to make the lifesaving jaw.

The jaw was made using the animals Computed Tomography (CT) scans, which allowed the team to create three-dimensional models of the turtle’s upper and lower jaws that would not impede on its movement or eating ability. A team of surgeons then installed the new beak, creating a cool-looking bionic animal.

This isn’t the first animal to be saved by new 3D printing technology. In fact, prosthetic limbs for animals are becoming more common due to the simplicity and low expense of the work. Another example of such a life changing operation on an animal is a dog, born with deformed front legs, which had spent most of its life strapped to wheels to allow it to move. The dog is now equipped with prosthetic 3D printed front legs, specifically designed with the correct curvature so the dog can run around and play, without getting stuck in the mud.

There’s also a story of a duck, born with a backwards left foot and unable to walk. After the leg was amputated the duck’s carer wanted to help the duck walk and swim again so a new silicone foot was developed.

The examples we’ve seen of the animals whose lives have been changed, or saved, by this technology is amazing. The advances made in animal prosthetics, with help from 3D printing technology, have allowed fast and effective solutions to serious problems. Plus, it makes really cool bionic animals.

What are your thoughts on using technology to save a life? Is it the right thing to do, or is it wrong to mess with the natural world in a way such as this?

If you would like to discuss these issues, or the impact of emerging technology on your industry, then please get in touch with Euan Cameron.

by Mark Spain Senior Associate