A great hornbill’s life has been saved by a team of veterinarians, dermatology experts and other staff at a Florida zoo after successful surgery to replace the bird’s cancerous beak with a 3D-printed prosthesis.
ZooTampa zookeepers feared for 25-year-old Crescent’s life after the colorful bird — most commonly found in Southeast Asia — developed squamous cell carcinoma, a form of skin cancer that often proves fatal to the species, but not humans. . the top of its bill – also known as a ‘casque’.
Despite the grim diagnosis, Crescent’s caretakers refused to give up. They sought medical experts to extend the life of the hornbill, although they were warned that the median survival time for birds once they contract the disease is 357 days, according to scientific research.
From there it became a race against time to save Crescent’s life.
ZooTampa reached out to veterinarians from across the country, as well as several human doctors specializing in dermatology, and many agreed to volunteer — much to the zoo’s surprise.
“We wondered, if this was a human, what would we do?” said Dr. Summer Decker, vice chair for research and innovation in the Department of Radiology at the University of South Florida.
“So we started planning how to fix Crescent’s casque using the technology we use every day on our human patients – 3D printing,” she added.
Dental acrylic and titanium screws were implanted into Crescent’s upper beak as part of the 3D-printed replacement casque. The operation to replace Crescent’s beak was the first operation of its kind in the US on a hornbill and only the second worldwide.
Crescent, a 25-year-old great hornbill at Zoo Tampa, was diagnosed with a form of skin cancer earlier this year before becoming the first bird in the US and only the second in the world to receive a 3D-printed prosthetic beak.
The great hornbill had a form of skin cancer called squamous cell carcinoma on her helmet on top of her beak before surgery
The 25-year-old bird seen after surgery with her new 3D-printed prosthetic beak in her aviary
RACE AGAINST TIME: Median survival time for birds with skin cancer is 357 days
Associate veterinarian Dr. Kendra Baker, who works at the zoo, said in a press release that ongoing conversations with oncologists and imaging scientists have been “an all-encompassing effort.”
A medical imaging technique known as a computed tomography (CT) scan almost confirmed that removing the tumor from Crescent’s casque would give the hornbill the best chance of survival.
But doctors and veterinarians warned that regular surgeries for these types of procedures would not be performed or else the bird’s sinuses would be exposed to bacteria.
“This tumor is usually found on the front of the helmet in hornbills, but hers was on the back,” Baker said in a statement about Crescent’s condition.
Crescent was not eligible for a typical skin cancer removal surgery, as her sinuses (in red) would have been exposed to possible bacterial infection
Veterinarians, biomedical engineers, physicians and real human doctors teamed up to remove the tumor (pictured) and replace it with a prosthetic ‘replacement beak’ made by Formlabs, a private biomedical lab specializing in the production of 3D printing solutions
ZooTampa caretakers watched surgery on Crescent, who was put to sleep, while vets operated on her helmet
The 3D-printed prosthesis (in white) was screwed onto the hornbill tip, protecting her sinuses from bacterial exposure
The experts rejected suggestions not to operate on the bird and found an innovative way to kill the tumor and protect her sinuses from bacterial infections.
ZooTampa revealed that a team of veterinarians, doctors, biomedical engineers and specialists worked together to create a new 3D-printed prosthesis before surgically removing the tumor from the affected area of Crescent’s casque.
Formlabs, a private biomedical laboratory specializing in the production of 3D printing solutions, contributed to the operation.
“Formlabs donated the material and the USF Health Radiology 3D team printed the surgical guide and new casque on a Formlabs 3D printer developed for use in healthcare,” ZooTampa said.
Crescent is now cancer-free, but will be watched closely afterwards as she recovers from surgery in her aviary
ZooTampa Associate Veterinarian Dr. Kendra Baker (pictured) described the whole process as an ‘all-in effort’.
Since she was taken out of surgery, the zoo says the hornbill is recovering well and her caretakers have noticed no signs of behavioral change.
Despite Crescent now being cancer free, she is still closely monitored after recovering in her aviary.
“An unexpected benefit came when Crescent started brushing within hours of surgery,” ZooTampa said.
“The Formlabs resin was found to be compatible with the yellow smoothing oils secreted by the glands above her tail, giving the new casque the same bright glow as her original.”
The great hornbill, also called the concave-casqued hornbill, the great Indian hornbill, or the great spotted hornbill, is one of the largest of the hornbill family. They are commonly found in Southeast Asia, especially in Indian, Nepalese, Bhutanese, and Thai forests.
They often make a “whooshing” sound when flying due to a lack of feathers under their wings that is typical of other birds.
The birds have been listed as a vulnerable species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, due to the ongoing problem of deforestation.
Hornbills are protected in certain parts of western and northeastern India and Thailand, with an estimated population of 23,000 to 71,000.
ZooTampa in Tampa, Florida, also known as Crescent’s home