Planet Earth

Scientists Whittled Mammal Bones and Used Them to Fix Broken Pigeon Wings

By Jennifer WalterNov 21, 2019 4:30 PM
(Credit: Sue McDonald/Shutterstock)

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How do you help a bird with a fractured wing? For avian veterinarians at Shiraz University in Iran, the answer may lie in repurposing the bones of deceased dogs and sheep to use as implants.

This wouldn't be your go-to solution if you found an injured bird on the sidewalk, but rather a technique for veterinarians to implement into their practice when treating injured fowl. As stated by a team of Shiraz University veterinarians in a study published yesterday in the journal Heliyon, little research has been done on surgical techniques that may help birds repair fractures.

By using repurposed bone, the veterinarians were able to create lightweight pins to help during rehabilitation and get injured pigeons back on their wings again. And the Shiraz veterinarians report that they are already using this method in their avian clinic to treat injured visitors.

A Balancing Act

Normally, avian surgeons use metal pins to stabilize wings when they become fractured. But because birds have hollow, pneumatic bones, even the smallest bits of metal can make it hard for fowl to fly without being off balance. Not to mention that metal pins and plates can sometimes become dislodged during rehabilitation. So the researchers decided to try something more lightweight. They took bones from deceased dogs and sheep, whittled them down to 3-centimeter-long pins and implanted them into the fractured wings of injured pigeons.

The pins used by the researchers were made from the the tibia and femur bones of sheep and dogs. (Credit: Shiraz University)

For the study, the research team split 40 male pigeons into groups, with some receiving the traditional metal implants and others receiving no surgical treatment at all. After 32 weeks, the group that received bone pins had no trouble getting off the ground, while others had difficulty taking off, landing or staying balanced in flight.

Not only were the bone pins lighter and more adaptable to the bird’s bodies, the vets also didn't have to remove them after surgery. Normally, when a wing is fractured and subsequently stabilized, vets have to remove the metal pins from the birds' bodies after rehabilitation. But with bones, the material is easily absorbed into the body.

Ready for Takeoff

Though the researchers only tested on pigeons, they say the bone pins could be used in many bird species, like owls, eagles and seagulls.

They also noted that they are planning to find a way to replace metal plates in other avian surgeries. To do this, they'll still be using bones — but this time from cows and horses.

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