How a 3D Printer Saved This Baby's Life

Six weeks after he was born, Kaiba Gionfriddo began to experience severe breathing difficulties, the result of a rare obstruction in his lungs called bronchial malacia. In desperation, doctors attempted a technique never tried before on a human: they 3D-printed a splint from biological material.

Before they could do such a thing, however, the University of Michigan doctors had to get emergency clearance from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The experimental treatment had only ever been tried before on animals.


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To construct the splint, doctors made a precise image of Kaiba's trachea and bronchus with a CT scan. Then, using computer modeling, they created a splint that would exactly fit around the airway, said study researcher Scott Hollister, a professor of biomedical engineering at the university. The model was then produced on a 3D printer.

The device is made out of a material called polycaprolactone, and will dissolve after about three years. By that time, Kaiba's windpipe will have grown, reducing pressure on the organ, and the splint will no longer be needed.

A splint like Kaiba's splint can be made in about 24 hours and costs about one-third the price of a hand-carved version, Green said.

Earlier this year, a 2-year-old girl became the youngest recipient of a bioengineered organ. This latest medical breakthrough is considered the first time that a 3D printed device was used in an emergency to save a life.


Kaiba is now 20 months old and is doing "wonderful."

Images: New England Journal of Medicine.


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