Cancer-Surviving Cat Gets a New Knee in a Breakthrough Veterinary Surgery

Credit: Allen Breed, Associated Press
Cyrano lies on a table during a news conference at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, N.C., prior to his knee replacement surgery.

A feline cancer survivor named Cyrano is back in his Upperville, Virginia, home, after receiving a custom-designed, artificial knee last Thursday during a six-hour surgery at North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine.

“It was a bit of an adventure, but it went very smoothly,” says Dr. Denis Marcellin-Little, who headed up the eight-person team, which included surgeons from Houston, Texas, and Washington, D.C. It took researchers more than six months to develop the lipstick-size implant, which was carefully crafted out of cobalt chromium and dense plastic. 

“There was a moment of suspense when we placed the implant,” says Dr. Marcellin-Little. “The fit had to be very precise, and it was a leap of faith to trust that it would fit.”

Fortunately, it did. “We’re very happy that the first hurdle has been jumped,” says Dr. Marcellin-Little. “Now we have to allow the tissues to reattach and heal.”

Credit: David Hunt/NC State:
Dr. Marcellin-Little examines Cyrano's knee prior to the operation.

A Custom-Made Knee

Cyrano isn’t the first feline to get an artificial knee. Britain's Dr. Noel Fitzpatrick performed a total knee replacement in 2009 on a cat named Missy, whose leg was crushed by a car. However, the North Carolina State University surgery is unique because the prosthetic knee was custom-made for Cyrano and implanted through a technique that fuses engineered components into the leg. The process, called osseointegration, creates a strong, permanent bond between living bone and the implant. “It’s more like the type of implant used in humans,” Dr. Marcellin-Little explains.

Cyrano’s knee was weakened after undergoing radiation therapy in 2010 to treat cancer. While the cancer is in total remission, the 20-pound, 10-year old tabby could no longer stand on the painful left hind leg. Owner Sandy Lerner’s search for alternatives to amputation led her to Dr. Marcellin-Little and North Carolina State. Although much of the work was done pro bono, Lerner still spent more than $20,000 to cover the cost of the materials. Dr. Marcellin-Little hopes that the procedure will be more available and more affordable in the not-too-distant future.

Cyrano is resting comfortably and should be walking on all fours in a matter of days. “We’d like him to take it easy for about three months,” Dr. Marcellin says. “And then he can go back to being himself.”

Courtesy of North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine
These two digital radiographs were taken immediately after the operation and show the custom-made, osseointegrated total knee replacement implanted in Cyrano’s leg. The image on the left shows the side-view of her foot/leg/knee and you can clearly see the new hardware in the knee at the top. The image on the right shows the implant in the front view of the leg and knee.

See also: High-Tech Prosthetics Give Exotic Animals and Everyday Pets a New Lease on Life.

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