Tufts vet borrows techniques from human medicine to repair facial fractures in dogs

A 4-year-old Labrador retriever named Burton was hit by a car last year, suffering multiple facial fractures that left him in pain and unable to eat. In a 5-hour surgery at Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary medicine, surgeon Randy Boudrieau inserted 10 titanium plates in the dog's face, using techniques first pioneered by orthopedic surgeons who treat people with facial injuries.

The next morning, Burton was eating soft foods, and he eventually made a full recovery. Now Boudrieau is urging other veterinarians to adopt similar techniques for repairing facial fractures in dogs.

"What I basically propose is to stop treating these cases conservatively," he said in an article posted by Tufts. "We've got the equipment to fix them. You can go from a dog that looks and feels like hell to one that's comfortable and eating by the next day."

Veterinarians traditionally treat facial fractures by wiring pieces of the broken bones back together or by leaving the injuries to heal on their own. But that can be ineffective. Boudrieau was familiar with techniques used in people that involve stabilizing fractures with metal plates, and he wanted to try something similar in dogs.

So he started by practicing on a dog skull, installing a Christmas tree light inside it so he could map the most appropriate locations for metal plates. He then figured out how to bend the plates into 3D structures to stabilize the bones. In Burton's case, Boudrieau used the titanium plates to align the dog's facial bones with his jaw. Stabilizing fractured bones minimizes their movement, which in turn relieves pain in both people and dogs, Boudrieau says.

Orthopedics is a rapidly growing specialty in animal health, as more and more veterinarians gain access to new technologies, many of which are borrowed from human medicine. In March, for example, 3D Systems ($DDD) expanded its distribution of its titanium knee implants for dogs, which are designed and produced using 3D printers.

And Colorado State University has several initiatives underway to study joint problems in racehorses and develop orthopedic solutions that could help both horses and people. Early this year, the university received a $42.5 million gift from philanthropists John and Leslie Malone to build a translational research institute aimed at translating equine therapies into products to help people with orthopedic injuries.

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