The Supervet creates practical wearable technology for animals, but when will such technology be available on the NHS?
Deep in the heart of the Surrey countryside, Noel Fitzpatrick – also known as “The Supervet”, also known as “The Bionic Vet”, and also known in my house as “My Hero” – works on a daily basis on what can only be described as first-time miracles in the world of veterinary surgical procedures. The hardest to treat pets across Britain and beyond receive the most advanced care available anywhere in the country, including within the field of human surgery. Noel has invented countless operations to help heal sick and seriously injured animals, and the unique practice, Fitzpatrick Referrals, and its in-house crack veterinary team is his brainchild.
Assisted by Columbian engineer Juan Ochoa and Professor Gordon Blunn, (the original developer of Intraosseous Transcutaneous Amputation Prosthesis technology (ITAP ) and Head of the Centre for Biomedical Engineering at University College London), Noel rebuilds shattered, disfigured, minute animal bones and replaces them with bespoke, fully functional high-tech bionic implants. What blows me away every time I watch the programme is the sheer range of species, age and size of animal that he works on, flitting seamlessly from a Rottweiler’s hip to a chinchilla’s foot.
A recent episode told the story of Hoppity, a 12-week-old Balinese kitten born with a seriously deformed back leg. The owner’s vet had told her that the leg would need to be amputated, and Noel had never before performed an operation of this nature on such a tiny, young animal. Even anaesthetising an animal so young is extremely risky. This did not deter him from trying to save the leg. As the kitten was carefully sedated I was, once again, gobsmacked by his expertise. The horrifically deformed bones of Hoppity’s leg and foot were exposed, and placed in a bespoke metal frame for Noel to attempt to piece back into a working limb. The bones, particularly of the kitten’s foot, were like needles.
“You can’t design this kind of surgery, you just have to touch it and feel it. Feel how much the bone can give. This is as much about art as it is about science.”
Witnessing such surgical innovations being performed on animals naturally poses the question of when these technologies will be available to people. Noel is convinced that his work with animals has the potential to influence human medicine, and has created a foundation, the Fitzpatrick Education Foundation, which is dedicated to the convergence of human and animal medicine. In May 2014, he also set up the Humanimal Trust to further promote and support the integration of new developments in medical and veterinary science and education, and to help foster closer working relationships between vets and doctors. The Humanimal Trust states that it is the first such trust in the UK aimed at advancing animal and human healthcare through shared ideas and technology, where both species truly benefit.
Bureaucracy and over-zealous regulatory restriction appear to be the main obstacle for Noel’s technologies not finding their way into human medicine just yet. Working on animals, Fitzpatrick is free of these restrictions and their associated regulatory rigmarole. While definitely not for the more squeamish amongst us, for those of you as fascinated by surgical innovation, pioneering practical wearable technology, and individuals who dedicate their own lives to improving the lives of animals as I am, The Supervet really is an inspirational must-watch. At present, there is unfortunately no clear time-scale as to when we can expect to be offered such high tech options as part of our National Health Service, but there is a real sense of things moving quickly in this area.
In the world of human prosthetics there have been some exciting new developments. Whilst visiting the Wearable Technology Show last month, the Emphasis team were lucky enough to witness actress and YouTube star, Grace Mandeville, unveiling her brand new, 3D printed, fibre optic, Swarovski crystal-laden, fully functional prosthetic arm. Created by Open Bionics, (a Bristol-based, custom 3D printed prosthesis start-up), the arm is beautiful as well as functional. In an interview alongside the show, Open Bionic’s COO Samantha Payne said:
“We printed Grace a socket and robotic hand in three days, and because 3D printing is so affordable we can add Swarovski crystals and create something really eye-catching that will not break the bank. We also added four fibre optic wires to the socket, so that whenever Grace closes her hand, a blue light would shoot up her 3D printed arm.”
Having seen Grace’s amazing arm first hand, I’m super-excited about the future of wearable technology, and its truly life-changing practical applications. It’s moving on in leaps and bounds, and I eagerly await the day that the remarkable efforts of individuals such as Noel Fitzpatrick are realised, and the current gap between animal and human medicine is closed. Bionic implants available on the NHS? Sounds fantastic, doesn’t it?