Saturday, September 20, 2014

Implanted Prosthetic Limbs for Amputee Horses: Be Part of Research!

implant prostheses for amputee horses

Six years ago, Molly the Pony turned the world upside down on by wearing a strap-on prosthetic on her amputated limb. If she read the newspaper this week, the peg-leg pony who survived Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans might think she needs to come out of retirement on behalf of her new prosthesis designer, Niki Marie Hansen. Hansen believes it's time for a new generation of artificial limbs for horses.

Fran Jurga, Hoof Blog
Hansen, a doctoral candidate at Louisiana State University School of Veterinary Medicine, is mounting a campaign for equine prosthetic research; a three-legged pony's testimonial might be just the thing to bring in the remaining donors she needs.

Just as Hansen is working on a new limb for Molly using traditional prosthetics concepts, she hopes one day to move equine prosthetics to the next level by successfully implanting a titanium prosthesis directly into the bone of a horse's lower limb. Using the technology developed in the United Kingdom and popularized on the "Bionic Vet" television series seen on PBS, Hansen's research is scheduled for takeoff with six experimental equine titanium implants on order.

All she needs is funding.

The prostheses that we have seen work successfully on horses are generally of the type constructed with a sleeve enveloping the leg stump. Straps, buckles and velcro generally hold the limb in place. In the meantime, research on small animals has successfully used implant technology to embed a core of titanium directly in the bone to which a prosthesis can be attached.

Meanwhile, metals embedded in bone for surgical solutions have moved ahead. The difference is they are not designed for long-term use weightbearing. Is it possible to combine science's success with surgical metal solutions with a locomotion-friendly prosthetic designed to replace the distal limb?

before and after surgical implant amputee prosthetic
These before-and-after radiographs of "Oscar the Cat" show his right hind limb after surgical implantation in 2009 (right). Oscar lost both hind feet when he fell into a farm machine. The revolutionary design of his replacement feet used custom-made implants to 'peg' the ankle to the foot and mimiced the way deer antler bone grows through skin – a case of science 'copycatting' nature. These  ITAPs (intraosseous transcutaneous amputation prosthetics) were first developed at University College London's Institute of Orthopaedics and Musculoskeletal Science by Professor Gordon Blunn, Head of the Centre for Bio-Medical Engineering. The artificial implants were 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. (Hoof Blog file photos via Noel Fitzpatrick and Firebird PR)

equine implant prosthetic PhD budget
They say timing is everything; news of Hansen's proposed research came directly on the heels of a popular article in the September issue of WIRED in the United Kingdom, documenting the first successful bone-implant prosthetics in humans at the University College London.

Hansen has a full program designed to answer the questions about the suitability of this technology for such a large, heavy and unpredictable animal. But it all takes money and titanium implants, even for experimentation, are expensive.

Hansen writes, as she says, in "plain English" to explain her research goals:

"I will be biomechanically testing custom fabricated titanium PerFitZ implants to see how strong they are in equine cadaver bones. I will gather data such as how the bone/implant construct breaks, where it breaks, if it breaks, how long it took to break and at what force it broke.

"Currently, there is no hard data available about the viability, durability and longevity of prosthetic implants in horses. There needs to be an incremental approach to show the veterinary community how long these implants will last and how strong they are."

Here's Niki Marie Hansen to explain in her homemade video her vision for equine prosthetic research. She chose Louisiana State University as a school where she could combine the engineering and medical device research needed for an equine orthopedic application as part of her PhD in veterinary science.

There's a poignant "PS" to Niki Marie Hansen's story. In 2008, she--like several hundred thousand other people--received a super-shared email about Molly the Pony and her successful recovery after leg amputation at LSU.  Everyone sent it to everyone else. In fact, it's still circulating.

The email started with one of you, the readers of The Hoof Blog. You clicked that little envelope symbol down at the bottom of the article and emailed the story; it took on a life of its own.

Niki Marie Hansen was one of the people who received that email. She told me tonight she still has it. It was what made her decide to pursue her prosthetics certification, what inspired her to enter the field, which would ultimately lead her to LSU and her quest to complete her PhD.

Let's help her get the chance to complete her research. She's part of the tribe.

--written by Fran Jurga

{Click this link to visit Niki Marie's fundraising site with details and videos on her research plans}

Prosthesis for elephant after amputation
Before Molly the Pony, I was intrigued by Motola and other elephants in Southeast Asia who lost their distal limbs when they stepped on forgotten land mines. A replacement limb of any kind, made of anything, that could help these animals was news back in 2002. (Matteo photo)

To learn more, read these articles on The Hoof Blog:
Amputation and Prosthetics: Molly the Pony Leads a Parade of Animal Amputees Showing Off Their Artificial Limbs
Auburn University: Amputation and Prosthesis Create a Dolphin's Tale Story at Vet School Hospital for Miniature Donkey Foal
Have You Met Oscar, the Bionic Cat?
Molly the Pony Romps to a New Role in Life…on Three Legs
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