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Robo-turtle gets a new 3D-printed face

An injured sea turtle had its deeply damaged jaws repaired with 3D-printed prosthetics.

Dekamer Sea Turtle Research, Rescue and Rehabilitation Center

Akut-3, a 45-kilogram loggerhead turtle, has been given a spring in his step (and a snap in his jaw) thanks to the Dekamer Sea Turtle Research, Rescue and Rehabilitation Center on the coast of Turkey. The sea turtle is the first of its kind to receive a 3D-printed prosthetic, after a successful procedure announced on 14 May.

The turtle was found floating in the water back in July 2014, injured by the propeller of a passing boat. His injuries consisted of a fractured jaw, with almost 60 percent of the upper and lower jaw on the right side of his face missing.

Akut-3's injured face. BTech

But, where some humans cause careless harm to wildlife, others, like those at the Dekamer Center, are willing to help.

The only hope for Akut-3 -- named for the rescue agency that found him, AKUT Arama Kurtarma Derneği -- was facial reconstruction. Inspired by similar efforts with other rescue animals, such as the toucan bird from the forest of Grecia, Costa Rica, the Dekamer Center decided to reach out to medical 3D printing company BTech, which has been developing implants and prosthetics.

To develop Akut-3's prosthetic, according to 3D Printing Industry, the team had to scan his face, converting it into 3D models using the Mimics Innovation Suite by Materialise.

The next step was to reconstruct his beak, with the help of surgeons and veterinarians, using Materialise's 3-matic software, creating a prosthetic that would be able to seamlessly replace the part of Atuk-3's face sheared off by the propeller.

The model for the prosthetic (left) and the prosthetic itself (right). BTech

The prosthetic itself was printed in medical-grade titanium and sent to the surgical team, where it was attached to Akut-3's face.

After recovering from the anaesthetic, Akut-3 was able to move his jaw. Now the team is allowing Akut-3 to recuperate, on antibiotics to prevent infection, while the soft tissue of his face attaches to the prosthesis. Once he is healed, Akut-3 will be returned to the sea, joining the 47 turtles successfully treated by the Dekamer Center since it opened in 2009.