Canadian Manufacturing

3D printing takes centre stage in medical first

The process, also known as additive manufacturing, has been used for rapid prototyping in various industrial sectors for more than a decade



ANN ARBOR, Mich—In a medical first, doctors at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital at the University of Michigan used a 3-D laser printer to create an airway splint to save the life of a baby boy who used to stop breathing nearly every day.

It’s the latest advance from the booming field of regenerative medicine, making body parts in the lab.

In the case of Kaiba Gionfriddo, doctors didn’t have a moment to spare. Because of a birth defect, the little Ohio boy’s airway kept collapsing, causing his breathing to stop and often his heart, too. Doctors in Michigan had been researching artificial airway splints but had not implanted one in a patient yet.

In a single day they made 100 tiny tubes, using computer-guided lasers to stack and fuse thin layers of plastic instead of paper and ink to form various shapes and sizes. The next day, with special permission from the Food and Drug Administration, they implanted one of these tubes in Kaiba, the first time this has been done.

Suddenly, a baby that doctors had said would probably not leave the hospital alive could breathe normally for the first time. He was three months old when the operation was done last year and is nearly 19 months old now. He is about to have his tracheotomy tube removed; it was placed when he was a couple months old and needed a breathing machine. And he has not had a single breathing crisis since the operation.

Independent experts praised the work and the potential for 3-D printing to create more body parts to solve unmet medical needs.

Kaiba had the operation on Feb. 9, 2012. The splint was placed around his defective bronchus, which was stitched to the splint to keep it from collapsing. The splint was manufactured a slit along its length so it can expand and grow as the child does—something a permanent, artificial implant could not do.

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