Medical AMProsthetics

GE Additive 3D prints custom titanium cast for young gorilla

The eleven-year-old gorilla is currently recovering at the Cincinnati Zoo after she broke her humerus

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Gladys, an eleven-year-old gorilla, is recovering in Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden’s Gorilla World after undergoing surgery to repair a broken humerus – an injury she sustained during a fight. Her recovery is supported by GE Additive, which is working to create a custom titanium 3D printed cast that is more durable than a traditional cast to prevent her from re-injuring her arm during the healing process.

“It’s not unusual for gorillas to have altercations, and this one was actually a minor squabble,” said Victoria McGee, Zoological Manager of Primates at the Cincinnati Zoo. “She must have fallen in just the wrong way to break her arm, but the result was a complete, oblique fracture of her distal humerus.”

A break like the one Gladys suffered is not a common injury at the Zoo, so the vet staff enlisted the expertise of top surgeons from Cincinnati Children’s and anesthesiologists from the University of Cincinnati (UC) College of Medicine.

“Post-operative pain is of great concern for primates and humans alike. As a team we developed a plan that utilized multi-modal analgesics to ensure that Gladys was comfortable throughout the perioperative period,” said Dr. Sajen Alexander, Instructor of Anesthesiology at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine and a UC Health anesthesiologist.

GE Additive 3D prints custom titanium cast for young gorilla. She is currently recovering at the Cincinnati Zoo after she broke her humerus.

Dr. Alexander and his colleague, Dr. Chelsey Thomas, monitored Gladys while the Zoo veterinarian team and surgeons from Cincinnati Children’s performed an operation to repair her fracture and applied a temporary cast to provide stability until a stronger, gorilla-proof cast could be made.

“Gladys is naturally curious about her new cast, and she doesn’t fully understand the need to preserve it for her recovery,” explained Dr. Mike Wenninger, Director of Animal Health at the Cincinnati Zoo. “So, we turned to our friends at GE [Additive] to help us create a sturdier cast.”

“We see this sort of fracture in kids all the time,” said Dr. Kevin Little, one of the orthopedic surgeons from Cincinnati Children’s who helped perform the operation. “This is a bit more complicated because gorillas have a lot of muscle and bigger, denser bones. Despite these challenges, we were thrilled with the success of the operation and thankful for the multidisciplinary and cross-institutional teamwork that made it possible.”

“Gorillas hang from their arms, which is very different from a lot of the pediatric patients we care for. It’s also difficult to help Gladys understand what we have done surgically and why we need to protect the repair,” said Dr. Jaime Denning, Orthopedic Surgeon Liaison for Trauma at Cincinnati Children’s. “That’s why we needed to use heavier-duty equipment and a stronger cast. We look forward to seeing Gladys get back to hanging once she heals.”

GE Additive 3D prints custom titanium cast for young gorilla. She is currently recovering at the Cincinnati Zoo after she broke her humerus.

The Zoo veterinarians and human surgeons are pleased with how the surgery went and are optimistic that the screws and plates that were placed in the gorilla’s elbow will hold the bone in the right position.

“As a level 1 pediatric trauma center, we care for children with various injury-related needs every day. We’re so proud to leverage that expertise to help our close neighbors at the Cincinnati Zoo,” said Dr. Meera Kotagal, Director of Trauma Services and pediatric surgeon from Cincinnati Children’s who helped coordinate their surgical team and assisted with the procedure. She is also the current chair of the Zoo’s Ambassador Council. “Caring for Gladys was a privilege for our team, and we’re grateful to be part of the tradition of ongoing close collaboration between Cincinnati Children’s and the Cincinnati Zoo.”

Gladys will be behind the scenes for at least six more weeks. Her care team is monitoring her closely and providing around-the-clock observation and treatments to make sure that she is getting nutrients, liquids, and pain medications. They are supporting her comfort level with the process, while also distracting her as needed to prevent the temporary cast from being destroyed.

“GE Additive is planning to deliver the cast tomorrow morning [today], which is less than a week turnaround time from our initial request,” said Dr. Wenninger. “I’m amazed that the GE Additive team was able to take the requirements that we provided to model the design, print, and post-process the titanium cast in such a short time! We are grateful for the opportunity to collaborate with human medical and engineering experts to provide the best possible care for Gladys.” Gladys should be fitted with the cast in the next day or two.

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746 composites AM companies individually surveyed and studied. Core composites AM market generated over $785 million in 2023. Market expected to grow to $7.8 billion by 2033 at 25.8% CAGR. This new...

Edward Wakefield

Edward is a freelance writer and additive manufacturing enthusiast looking to make AM more accessible and understandable.

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