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Pioneering Implant Surgery Aids Zeus and Prosthetic Limb Design

Zeus, a five-year-old Siberian husky with a missing foot, will get his first chance to run in the snow thanks to a customized osseointegrated implant and attached prosthetic limb made possible by an innovative collaboration between the NC State University College of Veterinary Medicine and College of Engineering.

Read the article in the News & Observer.

See interesting YouTube video on Zeus and the surgery.     

CVM professor of orthopedic surgery Dr. Denis Marcellin-Little, who led the Zeus surgical team, and COE associate professor of industrial and systems Dr. Ola Harrysson, who led the engineering team, are pioneers in the area of osseointegration, a process that fuses a prosthetic limb with an animal's (or human's) bones.

The two have been working together since 2003 and are credited with the world’s first such implant surgery for cat George Bailey in 2005. Zeus now becomes the fifth pet to receive a custom-made osseointegrated implant and attached prosthetic limb at NC State. Zeus is the first, however, to receive an implant for a front limb—a more challenging situation. A sixth animal, dog Pez, had a large hole in the roof of his mouth repaired by the same process.    

Osseointegration creates a strong, permanent bond between living bone and the titanium implant, which is anchored into the bone—similar to the way an artificial tooth is anchored into the jaw. The individually designed prosthesis is then attached to the tip of the implant.

The implant and prosthesis are designed and created using rapid prototyping technology that can create a perfectly replicated three-dimensional model of the animal’s limb. Surgeons then use the model to practice the procedure, making minute adjustments to ensure a perfect fit before the surgery. The actual implant and prosthesis are then created to match specifications.

NC State is the only university in the world that can manufacture custom prosthetics for veterinary patients in house, thanks to the close collaboration between veterinarians and engineers.

Zeus lost his foot as a puppy, when another dog attacked him and bit it off. The injury limits him to the use of three legs, severely curtailing the active dog’s mobility. According to owner Sandy Vandall, Zeus is self-conscious about his left foreleg.

“Whenever he meets another dog, he tucks it in and hides it,” she says. “It’s like he doesn’t want the other dogs to see that he doesn’t have a foot. He wants to run and play, but he tires out after about five minutes. It really affects his quality of life.”

Zeus is expected to have a 10 to 12-week recovery period and will need to walk before running so the natural bone, which has never borne weight, can be strengthen.  

"The implications for this procedure are huge," Dr. Marcellin-Little says. "As we gain more experience with the surgical technique and the design of the limbs, we see the possible benefits for humans—implants that allow the prosthetic limbs to attach without chafing or irritation, and limbs with more natural ranges of motion. We believe that this is the future of prosthetics."

For more information on the osseointegrated implant procedure:

Updated Nov. 21, 2011