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Splint made by 3D printer used to save baby’s life

‘Vacuum cleaner’ for windpipe created by experts in Michigan hailed as a medical breakthrough
  • @jeremylaurance

A baby’s life has been saved by using a device to help him breathe created by a 3D printer. The operation, carried out in the US, follows the development of a controversial 3D-printed gun openly available online.

It is hoped that further objects with a more positive purpose, treating other medical conditions, could also be developed through the 3D printing process – structures that are being developed for use in ear, nose and throat surgery.

The groundbreaking intervention was made after the parents of Kaiba Gionfriddo begged doctors to help their six-week-old son, who collapsed and turned blue when the family was at a restaurant. In the following months he stopped breathing regularly and had to be resuscitated on a daily basis.

Kaiba had been born with the main arteries to his heart and lungs misplaced; they were squeezing his windpipe, causing a rare condition called tracheobronchomalacia. Most affected children grow out of it by the age of three, but in severe cases it can cause death.

Doctors working with Professor Scott Hollister, a biomedical engineer at the University of Michigan, used a 3D printer to make a device like a vacuum cleaner hose which was implanted into Kaiba’s chest to act as splint to hold his airway open.

Three weeks after the operation in February 2012 – which has only now been reported, in The New England Journal of Medicine – he was taken off the ventilator and has not had trouble breathing since.

His mother, April, said: “Quite a few doctors warned there was a good chance he would not leave the hospital alive.” Professor Hollister said: “Kaiba’s case is the highlight of my career. To build something that a surgeon can use to save someone’s life – it’s a tremendous feeling.”

Kaiba had been in normal health until the age of six weeks when he began to struggle to breathe. When he was two months, his chest heaved dramatically as he gasped for breath and doctors had to perform a tracheotomy.

Kaiba’s doctors contacted the experts in biomedical engineering at the University of Michigan who were developing a new device for use in patients which would dissolve and be absorbed by the body in a couple of years. They obtained emergency clearance from the US Food and Drug Administration to create and implant a tracheal splint.

Glenn Green, associate professor of paediatric otolaryngology at Michigan, said: “Severe tracheobronchomalacia has been a condition that has bothered me for years. I have seen children die from it. Even with the best treatments, Kaiba was imminently going to die. To see this device work is a major accomplishment and offers hope for these children.”