An endangered loggerhead sea turtle has been given a second chance at life thanks to 3D printing and the generosity of Turkish research and development company BTech Innovation.

The turtle, dubbed AKUT3, was brought to Turkey's Pamukkale University (PAU) after a suspected boat collision left its jaw shattered and its life on the line. Unlike many sea turtles that feed on softer invertebrates such as jellyfish, loggerheads are named for their proportionately large head and jaws, which enable them to feed on hard-shelled prey like sea snails. Without a strong, fully functioning jaw, there's no surviving in the wild for these reptiles. 

The PAU team managed to stabilise the injured patient, but the damage to its jaw made release back into the wild impossible – or so they thought. BTech Innovation specialises in 3D printing medical prostheses, and after some discussion with the team at PAU, the company decided to step in and help (pro bono) by designing a turtle-safe titanium implant, the first of its kind in the world. 

After two months of careful scanning and planning, the two-hour surgery to fit the jaw implant was a success, and AKUT3 shows no signs of rejection. "We used CT scans and computer software to create a 3D model of the turtle's beak. This enabled us to design the prosthetic replacement, which was then 3D-printed in medical-grade titanium," explains Dr Anas M. Anderson, who helped to carry out the operation. 

It's still early days, but the turtle seems to be recovering well and there's hope that it'll be released back into the wild later this year. Sadly, these amazing marine animals don't have the best track record with humans. They're at risk both on the beaches where they nest and in their ocean habitat (with their greatest threat being accidental entanglement in fishing gear) – so we’re glad to see at least one lucky survivor on the road to recovery.

Injured Turtle 2015 05 18
It's thought the turtle's jaws was shattered in a boat collision. Image: BTech Innovation
Turlte 3D Printed Beak 2015 05 18
Weeks of scanning and planning eventually resulted in 3D models that allowed the team to create replicas of the turtle's jaws. 
The patient is recovering well so far, and there's hope it'll be ready for release back into the wild later this year. Image: BTech Innovation

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Top header image: Jean Marconi/Flickr