Researchers in veterinary medicine and biomedical engineering create prosthetic feet for frostbitten rooster
By Collene Ferguson
Thanks to the collaborative efforts of some creative minds at the University of Calgary, Foghorn the rooster is strutting his stuff again.
Earlier this year, the plucky rooster was removed from a city property by Calgary Animal and Bylaw Services. He had lost both his feet, most likely due to frostbite, and couldn’t walk as he was left with only stumps.
Dr. Daniel Pang, an assistant professor at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine (UCVM) who researches small animal pain and welfare, learned of Foghorn’s condition and wanted to help.
“I immediately thought of Dr. Mark Ungrin, as I knew he had a 3D printer in his laboratory and thought he might be able to design and create prosthetic feet for the rooster,” says Pang.
Ungrin, an assistant professor at UCVM, does some work in his lab in the area of prototyping and simulated body parts.
“We have mostly focused on the development of teaching simulators, to give veterinary students something to practice on without needing to work on a live animal,” explains Ungrin. “But you can imagine there is a lot of overlap between making imitation body parts for the vets to train with, and making imitation body parts for the animal to use, as we have done here.”
3D-printed prosthetic rooster feet created from turkey feet scans
Enter Douglas Kondro, an undergraduate mechanical engineering student at the Schulich School of Engineering, enrolled in the biomedical engineering specialization program. Kondro is a summer student in Ungrin’s lab. He was given the task of engineering 3D-printed prosthetic feet for Foghorn.
“I went and got some moulds of his stumps and scanned them to make a computer model,” says Kondro. “I got my hands on some wild turkey feet and used the scanner for that as well and matched them up to get a negative of the foot stump. Then, I printed off the stumps and printed off the new feet and painted them with silicone so they’d be sturdy but flexible and soft for the rooster.”
Kondro’s initial effort, or “rooster feet 1.0” as he calls it, wasn’t a success.
“The first ones didn’t work. He couldn’t really walk and kept falling over so I was pretty disappointed. So, I made version 2.0 and I strapped the feet onto him. It was pretty exciting to see him strut around.”
Huge potential for customized prostheses in human and veterinary medicine
Ungrin describes this as a very interdisciplinary project. “Dr. Pang is a veterinarian, my background is cell biology and tissue engineering, and my student Doug is working towards a degree in mechanical engineering. Given that this is not our major research focus, the fact that we were able to come together quickly, find a solution and implement it without unduly drawing on anyone’s time was really a function of having the connections in place ahead of time. It also helps that Doug has a lot of energy and is willing to jump into new things with both feet!”
Down the road, Ungrin says rapid prototyping approaches such as 3D printing have the potential to lead to customized prostheses that are designed specifically to meet the needs of an individual patient, for a wide range of conditions in both human and veterinary medicine.
“Even though things started out purely by chance, this collaboration is really a very good example of how clinical sciences can tie in with basic researchers and solve a very real, and very acute, problem,” says Pang.
Foghorn, now equipped with new feet, has been adopted by a family and is enjoying a normal rooster life at his new home on an acreage near Didsbury.
To drive advances in pressing global health challenges, the University of Calgary’s research priority in Engineering Solutions for Health: Biomedical Engineering is focused on better disease and injury prevention, diagnosis and treatments. These disciplinary advances are also applying systems engineering principles to continuously improve the health system.
Source University of Calgary