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3-D Printer Saves Baby with Rare Breathing Problem

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Doctors use ingenuity to make a device from a 3-D printer to save baby.

Regenerative medicine has taken a star role for saving the life of an infant. Doctors used a 3-D printer to make a lifesaving airway splint. Without the ingenious technology, the infant would likely have died.

Each day, April and Bryan Gionfriddo watched as their baby turned blue from a rare and often fatal condition known as tracheobronchomalacia.

Tracheobronchomalacia is characterized by a soft trachea that causes the airways to narrow. Typical splints can be used to keep the trachea from collapsing, but only short term because of low tolerability. CPAP is also used to keep the airways open, but is also just a short-term supportive measure.

If the above treatments fail, options are limited. If a plastic stent works, then surgery can be considered that includes inserting a mesh splint or stent.

The infant’s parents first discovered the problem when their son Kaiba was just 6-weeks old and stopped breathing at a restaurant.

Desperate to find help, Kaiba’s parents turned to University of Michigan where a new device that could help Kaiba was under development.

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When physicians learned of the little Kaiba's plight, Glenn Green, M.D., associate professor of pediatric otolaryngology at the University of Michigan and Scott Hollister, Ph.D., professor of biomedical engineering and mechanical engineering and associate professor of surgery at U-M applied for FDA clearance of a splint that keeps the trachea or windpipe open.

The team used a high resolution 3-D printer to make the splint from CT scan images of the little boy’s trachea and bronchus – the airways of the lungs.

The device is made from a biopolymer material called polycaprolactone that will absorb in 3-years, which is the length of time it takes the trachea and bronchus to grow normally.

Green said in a press release, the device facilitated lung movement as soon as it was put in. Until then Kaiba required daily resuscitation, despite intensive medical management. The rare malformation only affects about 1 in 2200 babies.

Hollister says making the splint is the ‘highlight’ of his career.

Other applications to make medical devices that the researchers are using that incorporate 3-D printing from high resolution images include building ear, nose and spine structures. Kaiba is thriving and has not had another episode of turning blue.

Journal reference: DOI: 10.1056/1 NEJMc1206

Image: Kaiba
University of Michigan
May 22, 2013