Dog’s prosthetic paw a breakthrough, say scientists

A BELGIAN SHEPHERD has become the world’s first pet to be fitted with a prosthetic paw where skin has grown into metal.

The dog called Storm had part of his paw amputated after being diagnosed with foot cancer.

It’s believed the operation could provide hope for many human amputees as medical doctors have been trying to make skin and bone grow onto metal for years.

Surrey-based vet Noel Fitzpatrick, who pioneered the surgery, said it was the “holy grail” of amputee research.

An orthopaedic and veterinary neurosurgeon, originally from Ballyfinn in Co Laois, he specialises in repairing the damaged limbs of pets. Mr Fitzpatrick removed the limb 10 days ago but replaced it with titanium-alloy implant attached to the main bone. The actual false paw is made of laminated carbon fibre.

The research was done in association with the Institute of Orthopaedics at University College London.

“The miraculous thing for Storm is that the bone has grown into the metal, and the skin has grown into the metal, so now he has a resilient seal which cannot break down and he cannot get infected through it. That’s been the holy grail of amputee research for years,” he said.

As part of the research for the operation scientists studied how deers’ antlers have evolved in order to understand how skin could mould to another substance.

Storm’s prosthetic allows him to balance and use his leg more naturally. Over the coming weeks, the UCD-educated vet and his team will be watching to see if the prosthesis will be remain as resilient when Storm comes off leash and regains his former level of physical activity.

“The technology is not just the first time that the implant type has been used outside the human finger,” said Mr Fitzpatrick.

“Because it has been implanted into the radius of the forearm of the dog, it will act as a model for human amputees and provides hope for people without feet or hands.”

He now hopes that the pioneering operation will go on to benefit victims of July 7 bombings and soldiers in Iraq.

Storm’s owners Francesca and Derek Taylor had the foot amputated rather than having him put down.

Mr Fitzpatrick works on dogs after road traffic accidents and other incidents where they lose limbs. He has transplanted tails to make paws in the past.

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