TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – ZooTampa veterinarians and a team of experts used a 3D-printed beak to save the life of a great hornbill with a tumor suspected to be cancerous. The team at ZooTampa, located in Tampa, Florida, worked with doctors, biomedical engineers and veterinary specialists from two universities to remove the tumor and replace it with the custom-designed prosthetic.

Caregivers of the 25-year-old hornbill, named Crescent, noticed a lesion at the base of her casque, which ZooTampa said is the helmetlike-growth on her upper break. They suspected it might be squamous cell carcinoma, which is usually deadly in hornbills.

“After Crescent’s diagnosis, we went through multiple meetings to see how we were going to tackle this difficult tumor,” said Dr. Kendra Baker, D.V.M. and associate veterinarian at ZooTampa. “We met with human and veterinarian oncologists, and imaging scientists who specialized in human CT imaging and scanning. It was an all-in effort.”

ZooTampa consulted radiology and 3D clinical application experts from the University of South Florida’s Morsani College of Medicine’s Department of Radiology. The experts often dedicate their time after-hours to helping the zoo, officials at ZooTampa said.

The experts began to plan how they would help Crescent.

“We asked ourselves, if this was a human, what would we do? So we began to plan how to fix Crescent’s casque using the technology we use every day on our human patients – 3D printing,” said Dr. Summer Decker, associate professor, vice chair for Research and Innovation and director of the 3D Clinical Applications Division for the Department of Radiology in the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine and Tampa General Hospital.

CT scans showed Crescent had a large tumor and complete removal was the best option for success. However, the tumor was near the back of her casque, close to her skull. When removed, it would expose her sinuses.

The USF Health Radiology team began working on a 3D-printed casque that would fit the bird perfectly.

They involved Formlabs, a manufacturer of 3D-printing solutions, to make sure the casque was lightweight and durable. Formlabs donated a substance to fit their needs, and USF Health Radiology printed a surgical guide and casque on a Formlabs 3D-printer, designed for healthcare use.

The team reviewed the surgical approach on a 3D-printed replica of Crescent’s head before performing the procedure.

After the tumor was removed, surgeons adhered the 3D-printed casque to Crescent’s beak with dental acrylic before permanently attaching it with titanium screws.

With her sinuses covered, Crescent immediately had full use of her beak.

ZooTampa said Crescent is doing well post-surgery and no changes in behavior have been noticed. She is monitored daily at ZooTampa to make sure the tumor doesn’t return as her casque regrows.

Her prognosis is good.

“It’s our responsibility, and our privilege, to care for all of our residents,” Baker said. “And this bird needed us to pull out all of the stops.”

The 3D-printed prosthetic is the first of its kind on a hornbill in the United States and the second in the world. Hornbills are listed as “vulnerable” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.