‘Six million dollar’ dog with cancer gets a 3D-printed titanium skull

A dog with cancer has been given a second chance at life thanks to pioneering surgery – and a bespoke replacement skull. The Williamsport, Pennsylvania dachshund lost 70 percent of her original skull following the removal of a brain tumour.

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In scenes that would not be out of place in popular TV series The Six Million Dollar Man, nine-year-old Patches underwent four hours of surgery before trotting outside to have a much-needed pee. Dog or robo-dog? You decide.

The pioneers

It is not uncommon for a dog with cancer to have a titanium mesh fitted in place of removed portions of its skull. But Patches’ titanium cap is believed to be the first bespoke 3D-printed skull swap of this scale.

She was the perfect candidate.

Patches’ tumour was the size of an orange. Michelle Oblak was the veterinary surgical oncologist charged with getting Patches back in action. In order to safeguard her special patient, Oblak first completed the surgery ‘virtually.’ Patches had her skull scanned, and the medical team tinkered around in the simulated version to map the damage.

The result was a one-off design for a 3D-printed skull cap. It even included location markers for the screws. An error of more than two millimetres would have rendered the bionic skull useless.

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That’s where the people at ADEISS come in. The medical-grade 3D printing company are no strangers to producing Steve Austin-style spare parts for living creatures. It took just two weeks to build the new skull. They do call it ‘rapid prototyping technology,’ after all.

The bionic dog

And it worked. Patches is now cancer-free. Her crooked left ear is the one clue to her secret strength. It could have been worse.

“We called her our little unicorn because she had this bump on her head, but it would have killed her,” owner Danielle Dymeck told CBC.

Sadly, Patches suffered a slipped disc in a subsequent, unrelated incident. She can no longer walk, but drags herself along by her front paws – refusing to use her wheelchair.

Perhaps she is waiting for those boffins to make her a set of bionic rear legs.

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Read Also: From death row to Instagram stardom: Bacon, a very expressive dog

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John is a filmmaker and freelance writer. Specialising in leadership, digital media and personal growth, his passions include world cinema and biscuits. He grew up with a golden Labrador named Abba (both of them were children of the '70s) and is nicknamed "G-Dog" for his dogly approach to life. He lives in London but is always on the move.