An injured loggerhead sea turtle will receive a second chance at a healthy life after receiving a little help from the 3D printing industry.
Image Credit: Scripps Institution of Oceanography
Scientists from Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography initially stumbled upon the loggerhead in the wild in 2013. A closer observation revealed damage to the bottom-right of her shell, along with an unnaturally-curved spine and rear-flipper paralysis.
No one really knows to this day what might’ve caused such grave injuries, but the researchers wanted to help nevertheless. That said, they decided to rescue the wounded loggerhead from the wild and see what they could do to help her.
Their quest led them straight to the Digital Media Lab at UC San Diego’s Geisel Library. There, researchers conducted CT scans to assess the damage, and it became clear that she’d need a brace to “train” her shell to grow correctly going forward.
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The researchers used what they learned from the three-dimensional scans to build a 3D-printed brace for the loggerhead’s shell out of white plastic. Thanks to the precision, the brace fits the turtle’s shell flawlessly and won’t burden her in any way.
More importantly, it adds rigidity and support to the shell to foster proper growth and prevent health issues down the line, and it adjusts over time as the turtle grows.
Given just how much weight the turtle put on since her rescue, the team now says the brace is doing wonders for her health:
“That growth has really exacerbated her condition. Without our intervention, the sea turtle could have gastro-intestinal and urogenital systems complications,” said Jenn Nero Moffatt, senior director of animal care, science and conservation for the aquarium.
“We teamed up with the Digital Media Lab at Geisel Library to create a brace that will prevent the shell from curving further downward and will promote more normal growth. It’s our goal to prevent further complications and keep her as healthy and happy as possible.”
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The loggerhead will eventually outgrow the current brace, and so the researchers will need to make a new one at some point. She remains in professional care and will stay that way to ensure a good quality of life and proper shell growth.
The 3D printing industry seems to have an unending list of potential uses. Helping wild animals in distress, however, might just be one of the most heart-warming of all.