The method of three-dimensional printing, which conjures up solid objects from 3D computer models, is beginning to make a larger impact on the world of life science technology. Though 3D printing was developed almost thirty years ago, its use in conjunction with biology began fairly recently but is quickly increasing. In fact, bioscientists from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor just used 3D printing to save the life of a baby.
The baby in question was Kaiba Gionfriddo, who had a collapsed bronchus. This blocked the airflow to his lungs to the point where he stopped breathing on a daily basis and had to be resuscitated. At the hospital, doctors gave the child a slim chance of survival. Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for children to die of severe tracheobronchomalacia, as the affliction is called, simply because there is no way to safely “fix” the bronchus.
Then Kaiba’s doctors contacted Glen Green (left), M.D., who focuses on pediatric otolaryngology at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. He and his colleague, Scott Hollister, Ph.D., professor of biomedical engineering and mechanical engineering, saw a unique opportunity to push 3D printing to new limits. Using a CT scan of Kaiba’s bronchus, they located the point of collapse on a computer model and designed a splint to hold open the bronchus. The most significant advantage of modeling the splint on the computer was that they could design it to be exactly the right shape and size to fit Kaiba perfectly.
The splint was a huge success, finally allowing Kaiba to breathe normally. “It was amazing. 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,” says Green in a University of Michigan article. Green has had his eye on tracheobronchomalacia and has wanted to finally come up with a solution for a long time now. “I’ve seen children die from it. To see this device work, it’s a major accomplishment and offers hope for these children.”