Medical imaging used to solve Bilby dental problems in Australia

Two scientists from the University of Queensland used CT scanning, biomedical imaging software, and a 3D printer to address and hopefully alleviate an ongoing, serious dental issue for captive bilbies.

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Bilbies—which are desert-dwelling marsupial omnivores—are an endangered species which quite often suffer dental problems that even further the strain on the captive colonies. In order to alleviate this issue, non-profit organization Save the Bilby Fund sought the help of scientists from the University of Queensland.

Dr. Steve Johnston, a wildlife biologist, and animal scientist Dr. Simon Collins began their work at a theme park called Dreamworld, where they compared these animals to specimens at the Queensland Museum. From there, the duo performed CT scans of four bilbies from Dreamworld at the Veterinary Medical Centre at the university’s Gatton campus. With these scans, Johnston and Collins constructed 3D models of the skull and teeth using Mimics biomedical imaging software.

The 3D digital models were then printed on a 3D printer by the team’s collaborators in the Department of Anatomy & Development Biology at Monash University. The real-life upscale models of the skull and teeth enable veterinary dentists to assess any pathology and develop strategies to remove the teeth safely, suggested Collins in a University of Queensland press release.

After identifying and describing the pathology of the bilbies, Johnston and Collins are now seeking the cause of the dental problems, which Collins suggests may be associated with the diet of the animal, but further analysis on wild bilbies would need to be performed in order to confirm that notion. As it stands now, the team is working on identifying the root of the issue, which is considered a next step in ensuring the continuation of the captive and wild populations of bilbies.

In addition to the research performed on the bilbies, Johnston says that the technology used here is already being used in other applications, including investigating the teeth of the koala and wombat to describe the vocal anatomy of both species, and to document the musculoskeletal system of the saltwater crocodile. In addition, the technology will be incorporated into animal science courses at the university.

View the University of Queensland press release.

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