Groundbreaking 3D-Printed Device Saves Baby's Life
May 23, 2013

Groundbreaking 3D-Printed Device Saves Baby’s Life

Brett Smith for - Your Universe Online

Using 3D printing technology and a little ingenuity, doctors at the University of Michigan´s C.S. Mott Children's Hospital were able to help an infant with a collapsed bronchus to breathe by constructing a life-saving device.

"Quite a few doctors said he had a good chance of not leaving the hospital alive," April Gionfriddo said about her now 20-month-old son, Kaiba. "At that point, we were desperate. Anything that would work, we would take it and run with it."

Kaiba had a blockage of the airway to the lungs, called tracheobronchomalacia. The rare condition affects about 1 in 2,200 babies born in the US. Many infants grow out of the condition by the time they become two or three years old.

However, Kaiba reportedly stopped breathing every day and doctors told his parents to expect the worst.

Glenn Green and Scott Hollister, two doctors at the UMich, had already been designing plans for a synthetic trachea using a 3D printer. After receiving emergency clearance from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the team used high-resolution imaging and computer-aided design to make a custom splint for Kaiba.

“We were all a little nervous,” Green told NPR´s affiliate in Ann Arbor. “Scott Hollister made a whole bunch of different sizes (of the splint) in case something unexpected happened or something fell on the floor, because there was no other box that you could go to for more.”

After the procedure, Green said the team was surprised by the effectiveness of the tiny splint.

"It was amazing,” he remarked. “As soon as the splint was put in, the lungs started going up and down for the first time and we knew he was going to be OK.”

“There have been patients before that have had similar problems that have died on us, so it´s been a very scary problem to deal with,” Green said. “We had done a fair amount of preliminary work in devising the splint, and so when an opportunity came for a child that had this problem, we were ready to go with it.”

The split is designed to support Kaiba´s air passages long enough for his body to grow the natural structures around it. According to the doctors, the splint will naturally dissolve into the body after serving its purpose.

According to the doctors, the process can readily be adapted to design and create other medical devices. Green and Hollister said they have built and tested patient specific ear and nose structures in pre-clinical trials. Hollister has also used the technology to model bone structures.

"Our vision at the University of Michigan Health System is to create the future of health care through discovery," Dr. Ora Hirsch Pescovitz, CEO of the U-M Health System, said in a statement. “This collaboration between faculty in our Medical School and College of Engineering is an incredible demonstration of how we achieve that vision, translating research into treatments for our patients.”

The doctors´ groundbreaking and lifesaving design and procedure are detailed today in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM).

To April Gionfriddo, the doctors´ innovations can be summed up very simply.

“It means the world to me — just knowing that something actually worked and was able to save our son´s life,” she said. “It just means everything to me.”