3D printing to save dogs’ day

3D models
3D printed dog skulls built from computer tomography scans are a lightweight and tough teaching tool.

3D printed models of dog skulls are helping University of Queensland vets to save animals and educate tomorrow’s veterinary students.

The models, showcased at the World Science Festival, were the result of a collaboration between UQ Library’s Digital Scholars Hub and the School of Veterinary Science.

UQ veterinarian and Associate Professor Rachel Allavena used the skulls to help children understand how dogs with short noses can suffer from the condition brachycephalia.

“Some dogs—like pugs, French bulldogs and Boston terriers—can have such short faces that they have trouble breathing and keeping themselves cool, as they’re unable to pant effectively,” Dr Allavena said.

“This trait has been selected by humans to make dogs look cute and more flat-faced like us, but it can result in significant suffering or invasive surgical treatments to help the dogs breathe.

“By having 3D models, we’re able to show just how problematic this condition is and to easily explain tricky concepts like this to school kids.”

UQ Digital Scholars Hub’s Nick Wiggins, who developed the models, is excited to use emerging digital technologies for science education.

“3D model creation is becoming more accessible, more affordable and improving in quality,” he said.

“In this case, using the medical imaging data of a dog that had a CT scan at UQ, open-source medical imaging software, a low-end 3D printer and some biodegradable starch-made plastic, we can build something quickly and cheaply that will connect science to a whole new audience.”

Dr Allavena believes educational displays are just the first step for 3D printing in veterinary science.

“Beyond veterinary education, 3D printing is now starting to be used to treat animals, particularly in surgical applications,” she said.

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