Rapid production of specialized animal-handling devices using computer-aided design and solid freeform fabrication

Gabriel Howles-Banerji, John Nouls, Yi Qi, G. Allan Johnson

Journal of Magnetic Resonance Imaging 30(2):466-471, 2009 Free PMC article

To apply small animal imaging techniques to relevant biomedical questions, large numbers of animals must be imaged with high precision and consistency. This is most efficiently accomplished with robust, purpose-built animal handling devices that allow rapid setup and ensure repeatable positioning, anesthesia, and monitoring. Ideally, such animal handling devices are custom-built to meet the specific requirements of each type of experiment. However, producing numerous custom devices using the services of a conventional machine shop is prohibitively slow and expensive. Here, a process is presented that uses computer-aided design and solid freeform fabrication to produce sophisticated animal handling devices in a manner that is both fast and inexpensive. The process is illustrated by the design and production of an animal-handling device that enables stereotaxically prescribed therapeutic ultrasound and MRI. The device includes head fixation and integrated anesthesia and monitoring.


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This publication presents a process for producing custom animal handling devices. To illustrate this process, the publication describes the development of a particular animal handling device for ultrasound/MRI of the mouse brain. This device was designed as three separate parts using 3D CAD software. The supplementary materials provided here the 3D CAD files for these parts. For each part there are two files. The first file is the ".ipt" file which is the native file format for the 3D CAD program, Autodesk Inventor. This file can be opened and edited in Autodesk Inventor. The second file is the ".stl" file which describes the surface geometry of the part. This file can be sent to a SFF (a.k.a., rapid prototyping) service for production of the part. There are a number of publicly available stl viewers that can be used to view the stl geometry.

Nose Cone


Draw Bar and Procedure Bed

If you wish to construct this animal handling device you will also need two 6-32 plastic thumb screws, one 2-56 plastic nut, one 2-56 plastic pan head screw, and one 10-24 barbed tubing adaptor.