Cat on table at news conference

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.”

cat knee replacement surgery

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.”

post-surgery radiographs

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