Liesbeth Kemel June 9, 2015

After being severely hit by a boat propeller, a 45-kg sea turtle lost two-thirds of its upper and lower jaw. A Turkish animal rescue team found the wounded turtle floating in the sea, without any sign of life, and carried it to the Dalyan Iztuzu Pamukkale University (PAU), Sea Turtle Research, Rescue and Rehabilitation Center. Due to a gaping hole near its mouth, as well as the extent of the stress trauma, the turtle was unable to eat or swim on its own. The turtle was fed by hand for an extended period of time and incrementally regained its health. To ensure the sea turtle’s return to its natural habitat, volunteers from Dalyan started to look for a solution to reconstruct the chopped- off beak. The volunteers eventually contacted Turkish 3D printing service provider BTech Innovation to customize a 3D-printed custom jaw implant.

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BTech Innovation decided to support this unique project, offering its services for free. Based on the turtle’s CT scans, the company used Materialise’s Mimics Innovation Suite to design the implant, creating an exact replica of the beak and the adjoining region that had broken off. Creating this reproduction presented quite a challenge, as the anatomy and tissue of a turtle are quite different from those of human beings. Fortunately, the turtle was a full-grown adult, so there was no risk it would outgrow the beak in the future. With the help of a couple of veterinarians and surgeons, the company then designed an implant directly on the anatomy of the turtle’s in 3-matic. Once it was approved by the surgeons, the implant was manufactured from medical-grade titanium and sent to Dalaman for the surgery.

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Given the rare and special nature of the case and implant, many surgeons attended the surgery. Ultimately, the beak was successfully fitted onto the turtle with multiple screws. “It was so exciting to visit the rehabilitation center and see our implant on its moving jaw,” said BTech Innovation’s CEO Kuntay Aktaş. In spite of the company’s experience in creating complex designs for human patients, the design process for the turtle was quite different and very challenging because “[this sea turtle] was a pretty big animal of about 45 kg and its jaw bite force was enormous. We performed thorough movement analyses and finite element analysis before finalizing and manufacturing the implant.”

This turtle, the world’s first of its species with a 3D-printed beak implant, is now recuperating in the rehabilitation center. It can move its jaw and will soon be able to eat on its own again. After an antibiotic treatment and once the wounds have healed, the turtle will be able to return to the open seas.

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