3D-Printed Airway: How Did Doctors Use 3D Printing To Save The Life Of Baby Kaiba Gionfriddo? [VIDEO]

By iScienceTimes Staff on May 24, 2013 12:27 PM EDT

Kaiba
Doctors in Ohio saved the life of Kaiba Gionfriddo using a 3D printed airway splint. (Photo: University of Michagan / scree)

A 3D-printed airway saved the life of a baby boy with a rare respiratory condition, the New England Journal of Medicine reports.

The boy, Kaiba Gionfriddo of Youngston, Ohio, was born with a rare disease called tracheobronchomalacia. The disease causes airways to periodically collapse -- in Kaiba's case, on a daily basis -- and block airflow. About one out of every 2,200 babies are afflicted with tracheobronchomalacia, but only 10 percent of those cases are as bad as Kaiba's.

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"Quite a few [doctors] said he had a good chance of not leaving the hospital alive. It was pretty scary," said April Gionfriddo, Kaiba's mother. "We pretty much prayed every night, hoping that he would pull through."

With Kaiba's breathing stopping on a daily basis, doctors had to act quick. Kaiba's doctors sought the help of the University of Michigan; doctors there were working on artificial airway splints, but they had never yet implanted one in a patient. After receiving special permission from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, they implanted an artificial airway splint in chest of 3-month-old Kaiba.

Now 20 months old, Kaiba has not had a single breathing crisis since receiving the splint.

"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," said Dr. Glenn Green, an associate professor of pediatric otolaryngology at the University of Michigan.

So how did doctors create the 3D printed airway that saved Kaiba's life?

Airway splints have traditionally been carved by hand, but the process takes a long time -- something doctors in Kaiba's case did not have. Handmade splints sometimes don't match a patient's airway precisely enough.

Enter 3D printers, which can very quickly, and cheaply, make perfectly sized plastic splints in 24 hours.

First, doctors made an image of Kaiba's trachea and bronchus with CT scans. Computer modeling software then created a splint that would fit around Kaiba's airway. Then it was simple as using a 3D printer to create the splint.

The splint is made out of polycaprolactone, a biodegradable polyester that will dissolve in roughly three years, at which point Kaiba's windpipe will have grown enough to not need the splint.

"Kaiba's case is the highlight of my career," said Scott Hollister, a biomedical engineer at the University of Michigan who worked with Kaiba's doctors to create the splint. "To build something that a surgeon can use to save someone's life -- it's a tremendous feeling."

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