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3D-Printed Beak Saves ZooTampa Bird From Cancer

TAMPA, Fla. (CW44 News at 10) - Top medical teams across Tampa Bay are celebrating after a successful surgery that saved a local zoo animal's life.

Six-year veterinarian Dr. Kendra Baker and Zoo Tampa's great hornbill named Crescent have grown close.

"In October of last year, we saw that Crescent had a lesion on the back of her casque," said Dr. Baker, D.V.M. and associate veterinarian at ZooTampa. "We learned that it was cancer." 25-year-old crescent was diagnosed with Squamous Cell Carcinoma - an often-fatal cancer on the beak near Crescent's skull.

"It's a common skin cancer in humans and it is fairly frequently seen in this species on their casque," she explained. So, veterinarians swung into action researching a solution.

"About 3 1/2 years ago, a vet in Singapore had a similar case in Hornbill and they put together this entire plan and it was successful."

Veterinarians at ZooTampa worked with hospital physicians, biomedical engineers and veterinary specialists from two universities to surgically remove the complex tumor from the Great Hornbill's casque and replace it with a custom-designed, 3D-printed prosthetic.

The experts, including a private biomedical 3D laboratory, all volunteered their expertise for the surgery, drafting a top-tier medical team of human and veterinary experts to save her life.

"We met with human and veterinarian oncologists, and imaging scientists who specialized in human CT imaging and scanning. We talked to the radiologists at USF who frequently do 3-D printing and prosthetic creation for humans," she said.

"We began to plan how to fix Crescent's casque using the technology we use every day on our human patients – 3D printing," said Summer Decker, PhD, associate professor and Director of the 3D Clinical Applications Division for the Department of Radiology for USF Health and Tampa General Hospital. "We asked ourselves, if this was a human, what would we do?".

And on January 28th, veterinarians anesthetized Crescent for a CT scan at Tower Radiology with the USF Health Radiology team, which revealed a large, meandering tumor. The team at the nonprofit zoo worked alongside two visiting veterinary surgeons from the University of Florida, physicians, biomedical engineers and two universities to carefully remove the tumor.

"You can't necessarily just take this portion off without exposing sinuses," she explained. So, they replaced it with a custom-designed, 3d-printed prosthetic. And after just two days in the hospital, she was back in her natural habitat.

"The surgery is very smooth, very rapid and her recovery was incredibly fast. From the moment she woke up she did not act any differently, which we were not quite expecting. We are just so thankful for everyone being involved in crisis and being willing to perform everything, their time their energy so it's really exciting for us to be a part of," said Dr. Baker.

Crescent's behavior, appetite or vocalizations, and her prognosis is good, according to zoo officials. ZooTampa's animal care experts and veterinarians monitor Crescent daily, watching closely as the casque regrows to make sure the lesion doesn't return.

The surgery is the first of its kind on a hornbill in the U.S. and just the second in the world.

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