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Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Have You Met Oscar, the Bionic Cat With No Hind Feet?

Oscar walks on two prosthetic hind feet that are attached to "pegs" surgically implanted in the remaining bone in his hind leg. The pegs mimic deer antler in that skin can--and does--attach to them. Once the pegs healed, the detachable feet could be attached. Photo by Jim Incledon via The Bionic Vet

You might want to think twice before saying, "Here, kitty, kitty!" to a cute little black cat...who is missing both his hind feet. Oscar got the short end of a run-in with a combine on a farm, but that tragedy led to his becoming possibly the world's most famous cat. Oscar was referred to an Irish vet surgeon named Noel Fitzpatrick who now practices in England.

Oscar became a candidate for a very special surgical procedure that implanted pegs into the stump of his limbs, in plain English. The implants healed and tiny prosthetic paws were attached to them.

Oscar, the Irish vet, the surgical process and an inspiring cast of surgeons, physiotherapists and forward-thinking animal advocates are featured in The Bionic Vet, a new British BBC "reality" show set in the progressive vet hospital where Fitzpatrick tries to help the handicapped animals brought to him.

Many readers know that I have been working with Molly the Pony for the last few years. Molly is an amputee who survived being abandoned during Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans only to be mauled by  a pit bull; gallant surgery at Louisiana State University's vet school amputated her lower right front leg. She now visits hospitals and schools to inspire and encourage people to do what she has done: overcome adversity. (You'll be able to meet Molly at the World Equestrian Games this fall.) I've seen first-hand how complex the care of all four of her legs is, and always wondered if there might be something on the horizon. And now I can see it, though I realize it may be pretty far off for horses.

Here are a few clips about cases that you might see on the show if it is shown in the USA (or wherever you live). The dog paw is an older case but I thought it might be useful to show it:

The revolutionary design of the feet uses custom-made implants to ‘peg’ the ankle to the foot and mimics the way in which deer antler bone grows through skin – a case of science ‘copycatting’ the natural world.

These pegs, or ITAPs (Intraosseous Transcutaneous Amputation Prosthetics), were first developed by a team from University College London’s Institute of Orthopaedics and Musculoskeletal Science. Intraosseous means into the bone; Transcutaneous means through the skin; Amputation means the intentional surgical removal of a body part, usually a portion of a limb; Prosthetics means the design and/or application of devices to act as functional or cosmetic replacements.

In a three-hour operation, the veterinary surgical team inserted the ITAPs by drilling into the bones in each of the hind legs. This in itself was an extremely delicate feat, one that could have fractured the ankle joint before the procedure had even begun. It was even more challenging because it had to be performed perfectly twice, once in each leg. The artificial (titanium) implants which are inserted into the bone are coated with hydroxyapatite, which encourages bone cells to grow onto the metal.

The skin then grows over the special umbrella at the end of the ITAP to form a resilient seal against bacteria and potentially fatal infections. The ITAP itself protrudes through the bone and skin, allowing the custom-built artificial paws to be securely attached.

In 2008 Noel Fitzpatrick opened a £10 million state-of-the-art facility in Surrey, England. His goal is to transform the face of modern veterinary surgery. His clinic offers a unique blend of leading-edge diagnostics and surgery with rehabilitation modalities including on-site physiotherapy and hydrotherapy.

“Harnessing advanced biomimetic material and mechanics with the latest surgical techniques”, Noel Fitzpatrick says, “is set to transform the future of orthopedic practice in both human and animal medicine.”

To learn more: Read about Oscar and the Bionic Vet television show on the BBC web site. 

Now, who's going to get Noel Fitzpatrick interested in horse hooves?

Thanks to Rachelle Steabler for bringing Oscar and Noel to my attention!

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