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3D Printing Technology Protects Birds of Prey in Singapore

Image credits: news.nus.edu.sg

3D-printing technology has found a surprising application in customised shoes that protect birds of prey in Singapore from potentially fatal foot disease. Jurong Bird Park’s avian veterinary team and the Keio-NUS CUTE Center at the National University of Singapore (NUS) jointly embarked on a two-year effort to create silicone shoes cast from 3D printed moulds for the wildlife park’s birds of prey. This collaboration has achieved an effective treatment plan for a medical condition known as pododermatitis or ‘bumblefoot’ in birds.

While pododermatitis can be treated with traditional bandages, we wanted a more bespoke and innovative solution to treat the patient. We decided to look into 3D printing because it provided a more precise way of distributing the force the feet have to bear away from the affected area. The possibilities are far-reaching when the engineering and veterinary sciences come together to work on real-world solutions.

– Dr Xie Shangzhe, Acting Deputy Vice President, Conservation Research and Veterinary, Mandai Wildlife Group

The Keio-NUS CUTE Center started to research and design of the shoe two years ago. After 2 months of intensive creative development, the final shoe design was completed and a custom-made protective shoe was developed for its first patient.

Associate Professor Yen Ching Chiuan, Co-director of the Keio-NUS Cute Centre, noted that another advantage of 3D printing is the flexibility to customise shoes according to the size, shape and condition of each bird’s feet. The team at the centre worked closely with Jurong Bird Park to create shoes that were appropriate in terms of measurement, material and usability according to the bird type and its unique usage behaviours.

3D technology has been a new approach to building and evaluating ideas through prototyping. This collaboration with Jurong Bird Park has given the opportunity to experiment with interesting ways to incorporate the Center’s existing 3D capabilities and processes like 3D printing, silicone casting, and material explorations such as better elasticity, durability, and more, to achieve truly unique outcomes.

Earlier in the collaborative design process, the team at Keio-NUS CUTE Center had to design the shoe based on photos and measurements of the birds’ feet provided by Jurong Bird Park. This task became more challenging as the team had to incorporate several design considerations.

For example, the shoe had to serve its main purpose of relieving and distributing pressure on the weight-bearing foot, and it also had to be comfortable for the bird to remain active while wearing the shoes. In addition, the shoe needed to be easily removed and cleaned. The material used must be non-toxic and durable as the patients may pick at the shoe with their sharp beaks.

The team went through multiple iterations, experimenting with designs of different shapes, and fabrication methods, while improving shoe durability, material type and comfort, before successfully arriving at a shoe design that was suitable for treating the foot condition, while allowing for the best fit and comfort for the avian patients.

This is not the first time Jurong Bird Park and the Keio-NUS CUTE Center have worked together to use 3D-printing technology for veterinary care. In 2018, the Keio-NUS CUTE Center designed and fitted a 3D-printed prosthetic casque for the great pied hornbill, who had his casque removed due to cancer.

Singapore has been utilising 3D printing technology for various purposes, including surgery. As reported by OpenGov Asia, Singapore’s National University Hospital (NUH) and a medical manufacturing company have jointly opened a 3D printing lab to produce personalised anatomical models for preoperative planning and surgical simulation.

The collaboration e aims to push the boundaries of surgical 3D printing in Singapore, elevate the standard of care for patients and deliver better patient outcomes. This initiative is supported by the Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB) to accelerate healthcare innovation in Singapore.

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