Implants which were quickly made in a 3D printer have saved the lives of three newborns and will continue to allow them to breath freely for quite some time.
Three babies, who suffered from a not-so-rare disease that wouldn’t allow their airways to remain open, have been saved by a procedure that was aided by rapidly evolving 3D-printing technology. These implants that are helping the babies to breathe normally are made with special bio-degradable material, which will eventually dissolve once the airways are strong enough to remain open on their own, said pediatrician Glenn Green from the University of Michigan in the U.S said,
“Designed to prop open the airways to prevent any serious collapse, the splints will actually end up growing with the infants, and will eventually dissolve away once they’ve outgrown them. This is the first 3D-printed implant specifically designed to change shape over time to allow for a child’s growth before finally resorbing as the disease is cured.”
Known to affect one in 2,000 children around the world, tracheobronchomalacia occurs when the cartilaginous structures that hold up the airway walls in the trachea and bronchi of the throat aren’t strong. Weakened by infection or damaged, these structure lack the strength to re-inflate and remain collapsed, thereby restricting air-flow into the lungs and causing suffocation and possible death if not spotted in time. Though artificial ventilators can alleviate the condition, it is certainly not a long term solution.
Surprisingly, many newborns are affected by the disease, but eventually their central airways strengthen. However, these three babies weren’t so fortunate and would have certainly perished if doctors hadn’t intervened. Hence the medical fraternity okayed the participation of the babies in the radical new procedure. The 3D printed implants are considered the last resort, shared Green,
“One child was unable to have any food in his stomach due to his fragility. Without the surgery, they would have only had mere days or weeks to live.”
Standard 3D scanning technology helped doctors to get a virtual replica of the babies’ airways. Using these as templates, Green and his team 3D-printed tiny splints from Polycaprolactone (PCL). Though an artificial material, the polyester can remain inside the body harmlessly for two to three years before it’s broken down and absorbed, leaving no residue. To ensure the implants could be successfully inserted and would work as intended, the doctors first tested them on 3D models of the babies’ airways before suturing them into the real thing.
Green has confirmed that the procedure has been a resounding success and can now be safely replicated on any newborn who suffers from a similar condition. Costing just $10 to produce, the 3D-printed implants are a cheap lifesaver to the newborns.
[Image Credit | Robert J. Morrison, On 3D Printing]