A Great Hornbill at ZooTampa in Tampa, Florida has a new lease on life after zoo veterinary staff devised a life-saving solution to an often deadly problem. Great Hornbills are recognizable for their large curved yellow bills which sport a helmet-like structure called a “casque.” It was in this casque that veterinarians at ZooTampa first noticed something wrong with Crescent.
Crescent is a twenty-five year old Great Hornbill who recently developed strange lesions on her prominent bill. Unfortunately, veterinary staff were confident that this condition was cancer. Squamous cell carcinoma, a type of cancer which frequently affects humans, is almost always fatal in hornbills. As soon as Crescent was diagnosed, her medical team knew that they were racing against a ticking clock.
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Jary the Hornbill
With Crescent’s condition identified, the next step for the zoo’s veterinary team was to find the treatment plan that would give her the best shot at survival. Enter Jary. In 2018, a twenty-two year old hornbill by the name of Jary was found to have an aggressive cancer which was eating away at his casque. The medical team at Jary’s home, the Jurong Bird Park in Singapore, were desperate. The last two cases of skin cancer in the park’s hornbills had resulted in fatalities.
Jary’s cancer, though, was limited to his casque and upper bill. If the affected tissue were removed, veterinarians felt confident that he could recover. So, for the first time ever, Jary became the recipient of a 3D printed prosthetic casque which was surgically attached and sealed with dental adhesives. Within a day, Jary could eat on his own. Within a few months, Jary was back in action, seemingly unfazed by his new casque.
Bolstered by the success of Jary’s prosthetic casque replacement, the medical team at ZooTampa began to form a plan. In order to replace the damaged tissue in Crescent’s bill, they would need to assemble a team of medical researchers and 3D printing experts.
Crescent’s bill was only affected by cancer in a small area, so she would not need to have nearly as much of her casque replaced as Jary had. Unfortunately, though, simply removing the tumor that had formed inside of her casque would not be sufficient. Her sinus would be left exposed and she would be unlikely to survive. With the help of 3D printing experts, radiology experts, and medical professionals from across the country, a treatment plan was formed which would isolate the affected area for removal and replace the protective casque with a prosthetic.
To treat Crescent, two items were designed and printed via the 3D printer. One was a small prosthetic replacement for the area of the casque which would be removed. The other was a sort of stencil which would guide the medical team so that the precise cancer affected area could be removed.
The results were almost immediate. Crescent, who would have likely had no more than a year left to live, became the first hornbill in the United States, and only the second worldwide, to receive this groundbreaking treatment. These days, though still under close observation, Crescent is acting like her old self. Hornbills in captivity can live for more than fifty years, it is the hope of everyone on her team that Crescent’s prosthetic helps her to enjoy as many of these as possible.
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