Hercules the alpaca was only 24 hours old when he broke his front left leg at Cedar Rock Ranch in Lebanon. He received a plasma transfusion and was bottle-fed for months. The open wound and exposed bone led to a serious infection, preventing the bone break from healing properly.
The animal’s veterinarian referred him to the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine for advanced treatment.
Dr. Pierre-Yves Mulon, UTCVM assistant professor in farm animal medicine and surgery, determined the NuCress scaffold was the best option to heal the fragile animal.
The Nucress scaffold is a nanomaterial-based bone regeneration device pioneered by University of Arkansas at Little Rock’s systems engineering professor Dr. Alexadru S. Biris, UTCVM head of large animal clinical sciences, Dr. David Anderson and a team of designated researchers.
The scaffold is designed to be implanted directly into the wound by a surgeon and can be loaded with drugs to fight infection or with hormones and stem cells to encourage bone growth. As a result, the scaffold can deliver bacteria-fighting drugs directly to the wound and be safely absorbed by the body, generally eliminating the need for additional surgeries.
Mulon loaded the scaffold with antibiotics and implanted it into Hercules’ wound, expecting a long wait due to the alpaca’s condition. The process proved quicker than he expected.
“Hercules responded well and fast,” said Mulon. “We was able to walk immediately after surgery and has been very active. The bone repaired within the time range expected for a closed fracture, though it was an open one.”
Mulon said while other options, such as traditionally administered drugs, could have been used, they would have presented more obstacles such as future surgeries.
“It is difficult to confirm if the results would have changed using any other option; however, I think it would have necessitated more time,” said Mulon. “Any open fracture carries a guarded to poor prognosis, and Hercules made it as we are very happy,”
Researchers received a grant of more than $5 million from the Department of Defense and hope to develop the product for use with humans.