A 3D printer was used to create a medical device being called a 4D airway, pne which saved the lives of three babies who were on the verge of death. This amazing new device is capable of changing shape as the child grows to provide lasting protection.
The University of Michigan developed the hollow splint, which is sewn into airways and provides a porous scaffolding supporting the natural airway. The tubes were constructed from polycaprolactone, which slowly dissolves in the body over a period of time.
The three babies fitted with the devices all suffered from tracheobronchomalacia, a condition in which the windpipe occasionally collapses, preventing normal breathing. In the disease, which is typically fatal, the walls of the trachea and bronchi are weak and prone to collapse, which leads to respiratory failure and cardiac arrest.
Each of the three devices was custom-designed to fit the child for whom it was intended. At the time of the implants, the recipients were 3-, 5- and 16-months old.
"These cases broke new ground for us because we were able to use 3D printing to design a device that successfully restored patients' breathing through a procedure that had never been done before," said Glenn Green from C.S. Mott Children's Hospital at the University of Michigan.
Those procedures were carried out on the babies three years ago, and investigators are now reporting the results of their followup studies of the lives of the patients. Before the surgeries, the infants were on artificial ventilators, with breathing tubes inserted in their throats. They were treated with narcotics to provide heavy sedation.
Today, one of the trio, Kaiba Gionfriddo, is believed to be cured of the condition, and his specially designed airway splint has completely dissolved. He was the youngest of the babies to receive the device, as well as the first. Previous attempts to build splints for windpipes faced the difficulty that they could not grow along with the child, meaning the device had to be replaced periodically.
"The device worked better than we could have ever imagined .... Now these children are home with their families. Instead of lying on their backs for weeks, these children are now learning to stand and run," Green said.
In addition to the production of airway splints, 3D printers are also being used to provide a wealth of other medical products, including custom jaws, hearing aids, hips and other parts to repair and enhance the human body.
Future research will study the safety and efficacy of the devices in a larger clinical trial. This investigation could lead to the development of new treatment methods for infants faced with the often-fatal condition.
Development of the 4D airway splint and the three-year study of three patients receiving the devices as babies was published in the journal Science Translational Medicine.