LSU Vet Med custom 3D-printed brace gives dog a second chance

Pape in his brace
Brace close-up
Gines with brace

If necessity is the mother of invention, a dog named Pápe’s medical condition has generated a life-saving invention by Alberto Gines, DVM, DECVS, who has combined his expertise in small animal orthopedic surgery and 3D printing to design and fabricate a custom brace for Pápe. 

“If his neck bends and compresses the spinal cord, it could be fatal. My challenge was to create a brace to support Pápe’s neck until he potentially has surgery,” said Dr. Gines, assistant professor of Small Animal Surgery at the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine.

The Maltese-Yorkie mix, unable to hold up his head, was diagnosed with atlantoaxial subluxation at five months old. Defective first and second cervical vertebrae, which control rotation of the head, were causing compression of his spinal cord. His young age made surgery too risky. Bandages to support his neck were applied initially, but they caused skin and ear problems and failed to provide the necessary support to the neck to be effective. 

Dr. Gines began the process of creating a solution for Pápe by capturing a 3D scan of the dog. Then, he generated a model of the dog’s body to determine how to design a brace that would fit and best support his neck. Pápe now wears a third version of his brace, and the skin issues are no longer present. Dr. Gines has been making custom adjustments that improve efficacy and fit. It takes Dr. Gines two to three weeks to design and produce a 3D-printed brace, depending on his clinic schedule.

Pápe’s owner, Dorothy Magee, of Ethel, La., brings him to LSU Vet Med each month to evaluate and adjust his brace, which is built in two sections so she can take it apart to remove it if necessary. She was aware of potential serious consequences of his condition because her other dog had received the same diagnosis and died as a result.

“Pápe was wobbly and could hardly walk when he was first diagnosed. He is now one-and-a-half years old. He would not have lived this long if he didn’t have the brace,” Dorothy said.

At home, he is spunky, plays with other dogs, and lounges on Dorothy’s bed. Pápe has become accustomed to life in his brace as he awaits possible surgery in early 2022.

“I really appreciate all LSU has done for him,” Dorothy said.

Dr. Gines’s Laboratory for 3D printing and Regenerative Medicine at LSU Vet Med focuses on the design and development of new alternatives to standard treatment solutions. Areas of research include 3D printing of custom devices like Pápe’s and bioprinting for tissue engineering. To learn more or request a consultation, contact Dr. Gines at 3dprinting@lsu.edu or learn more online.

Writer

Sandra Sarr, MFA

Communications Coordinator

sarr1@lsu.edu