Modern Medical Technologies are Helping to Save Endangered Species

Bilby tooth problems have been discovered by advanced technology, now all that remains is to find the cause.

By using 3D printed models and advanced CT scans, commonly used in human medicine, animal scientist Dr Simon Collins and wildlife biologist Dr Steve Johnston from The University of Queensland have gained a better understanding of dental problem in bilbies and how to treat them.

The already endangered captive bilby colonies are additionally threatened by dental problems. In an effort to explore the dental pathology of the bilby, Dr Collins and Dr Johnston used a highly innovative method of imaging. The images were taken from the animals at the Gold Coast theme park, Dreamworld, and compared to specimens at the Queensland Museum. Dr Collins said CT scans of four bilbies were taken at UQ’s Gatton campus’s Veterinary Medical Centre

“From these scans, we constructed 3D models of the skull and teeth using Mimics Software,” said Dr Collins. “Our collaborators in the Department of Anatomy & Developmental Biology at Monash University produced real life upscale models of the skull and teeth using a 3D printer.”

“The skull models can now be used by veterinary dentists to assess any pathology and develop strategies to remove the teeth safely,” Dr Collins added. The pathology of the captive bilbies have been successfully identified and described; they are now looking for the cause of the dental problems.

“We believe the main issue is likely to be associated with the bilbies’ diet, but we need to look at more wild animals to be certain,” said Dr Collins. “The wildlife carers at Dreamworld do a great job of caring for these animals, but we can always improve on our understanding of best practice.” The next step to ensuring the continuation of the species, in captivity and in the wild, is finding the cause of the dental problems.

“We are delighted that we can use this advanced imaging technology to not only solve specific veterinary problems, but also incorporate the models into our animal science courses – we plan to implement the new 3D technology as early as next year into our 2nd year anatomy courses at UQ Gatton,” Dr Johnston said.

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