Teen makes prosthetics for animals with 3-D printer

Since The Bishop’s School is right across the street from La Jolla Riford Library, Bishop’s junior Nikita Krishnan took advantage of its public 3-D printing lab facilities as she launched her non-profit Creature Comfort and Care (CCC) company. Aimed at 3-D printing custom prosthetics and assistance devices for injured animals, CCC worked with the Living Coast Discovery Center and Greyhound Adoption Center, and the 16-year-old Poway resident hopes to forge more partnerships.

With a pre-existing love of animals, but not engineering, Nikita went to the Riford Library for insight on how to 3-D print. “I was reading online about how 3-D printing is used to make prosthetics for people, so I wanted to see if it could be used to help animals,” she said. “But I had no idea what I was doing, so I got my start at the La Jolla Library. Staff introduced me to the technology and showed me how it works. I owe them so much for their help.”

Using Thingiverse, the web-based design platform associated with the Library’s MakerBot 3-D printer, Nikita became familiar with the design-to-production aspect. “It’s a new realm,” she said. “The appeal is to custom-make things inexpensively because the printer material is cheap and environmentally friendly. Plus, the possibilities are endless — from a bird’s beak to a horseshoe.”

In late 2014, she began the outreach to determine the need. Starting with Living Coast Discovery Center and Greyhound Adoption Center, Nikita met with veterinarians, took pictures of the animals and their injuries, sketched a design on paper, and then designed it online to 3-D print it. It wasn’t long before Nikita needed her own 3-D printer at home.

Depending on the project, Nikita said it could take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months for each prosthetic. “At the Living Coast Discovery Center, they have a Cooper’s Hawk with a claw that is balled into a fist, and it’s hard for a bird to walk on a fist. The skin gets worn thin,” she said. “I originally wanted to try and open the claw, but it had been closed for so long, it would have caused more harm. I decided to build a boot to fit over her claw to provide a flat surface, and that took me a few months because the claws are small and the piece is really intricate.”

Although the idea wasn’t practical for the long-run, Living Coast Discovery animal care manager Lindsay Bradshaw said it was “a great experience” working with Nikita. “She is such a creative girl and came up with so many ideas to try. Her heart is truly in the right place.” Bradshaw added she would consider working with Nikita again, if an animal came in need of a prosthetic.

For the El Cajon-based Greyhound Adoption Center (GAC), which rescues former race dogs that suffer broken hind legs, Nikita custom-makes splints. “Their general splints are heavy and cumbersome. Since each dog has different measurements and the 3-D printing material is lightweight, I designed a replica of the splint they have, but thinner and lighter, which can be customized for each dog. It’s currently in testing, but it seems to be going well.”

Nikita’s test subject is a greyhound name Leah, which GAC founder and president Darren Rigg said wears one of Nikita’s prosthetics following a recent break to her right hind leg. “We bring in lots of dogs with broken legs over the course of the year … so Nikita made two custom splints that fit the specific curve of Leah’s leg. Her prototypes were delivered just in time. We put the splint on Leah, and she is benefiting from this brand new technology. It’s remarkable,” he said.

Going forward, he added, “We hope to have Nikita produce a series of semi-custom splints for various dogs that come in.”

Of the possible greater good to Nikita’s technology, Rigg said, “She’s on to something big here; if she could make a custom splint, for all dogs not just greyhounds, she could be very successful in the veterinary community.”

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