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3D-printed implant saves baby's life


May 23, 2013

Kaiba Gionfriddo, seen here with a ventilator attachment, is the recipient of a first-of-its-kind tracheal splint

Kaiba Gionfriddo, seen here with a ventilator attachment, is the recipient of a first-of-its-kind tracheal splint

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Six week-old Kaiba Gionfriddo was out at a restaurant with his family, when he stopped breathing and started turning blue. It turned out that he had a severe form of tracheobronchomalacia, a rare condition in which the trachea collapses due to flaccid supporting cartilage. Although he survived that incident, he proceeded to stop breathing on a regular basis, requiring daily resuscitation. Given the seriousness of the situation, his doctors decided to go for broke and try something new – an implanted 3D-printed tracheal support splint.

The device was already under development by University of Michigan associate professor of pediatric otolaryngology Dr. Glenn Green, and professor of biomedical engineering and mechanical engineering Dr. Scott Hollister. It had never been tried in a human before, so they had to obtain emergency clearance from the US Food and Drug Administration in order to use it on Kaiba.

To make the implant, they first obtained a CT scan of Kaiba’s trachea/broncus, then created a computer model of the splint based on that. They then used a laser-based 3D printer to convert that digital model into a physical object, made from a biopolymer known as polycaprolactone.

In a surgical procedure on February 9th of last year, the ridged tube-shaped splint was sewn around Kaiba’s airway. This opened up his bronchus immediately, plus it also now serves as a skeleton to guide the proper growth of more rigid cartilage as he matures. Most babies with tracheobronchomalacia grow out of the condition as their trachea develops over two to three years, which is about the same amount of time that it should take the biocompatible polymer to be dissolved into his body.

Twenty-one days after the procedure was complete, Kaiba was taken off of ventilator support. He hasn’t had any breathing problems since, and is now 20 months old.

“Severe tracheobronchomalacia has been a condition that has bothered me for years,” said Green. “I’ve seen children die from it. To see this device work, it’s a major accomplishment and offers hope for these children.”

A paper on the case was published today in the New England Journal of Medicine. More information is available in the video below.

Source: University of Michigan

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away. All articles by Ben Coxworth

Excellent! Many lives saved.These men are blessed.


After all the bad (hysterical) press: "3D printers will kill people by making guns!" etc., etc. It is nice to see one used for a medical breakthrough saving a little kid's life! I wonder how a doctor would go tailoring a 'stent' for an artery? With CT scanners getting so precise, one could be made right in the surgery, with no waiting, for a perfect fit!

The Skud

People who want guns will do so by hook or by crook. Hasn't anyone heard of the Saturday Night specials made out of 2 con centric steel pipes? 3D printed one are just a different way of getting them.

The avaricious will always find ways to take what does not belong to them. It can be individual - real persons as also the kind certified by the stupid US supreme court, countries or what have you. They will utilise whatever weapons are available to them.


Back on topic, I think this is a fabulous use of the 3-D printing technology.

Bruce H. Anderson

The CT scan feeding directly to the printer is a great idea. I have old lens implants; I wonder if a scan/ulltrasound/ whatever image could be used to build exact fits to my eyes someday? My retina is a scarred mess from measles as a child, so a simple prescription is nice, but a custom fit would be great.


I am a parent of a 15 year old teenage son who suffers from a very similar condition. His trachea collapses and as a result he has had to breath through a tracheostomy tube since he was a baby. Year after year we are told to "wait and see" as they hold onto hope that he could one day breath on his own without the tube.

I am so very encouraged when I read stories like this that advances are being made in this and many other areas. I am grateful to the doctors, researchers and scientists that think big and take chances to help us all to live better lives and thankful for strong families like the Gionfriddo's for sharing their stories.

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