Dying Baby Saved By 3-D Printer
Yet another achievement for a technology that seems to have just burst upon the scene yesterday:
(CNN) – When he was 6 weeks old, Kaiba Gionfriddo lay flat on a restaurant table, his skin turning blue. He had stopped breathing.
His father, Bryan, was furiously pumping his chest, trying to get air into his son’s lungs.
Within 30 minutes, Kaiba was admitted to a local hospital. Doctors concluded that he had probably breathed food or liquid into his lungs and eventually released him.
But two days later, it happened again. It was the beginning of an ordeal for the Youngstown, Ohio, family that continued day after agonizing day.
“They had to do CPR on him every day,” said April Gionfriddo, Kaiba’s mother, who later found out her son had a rare obstruction in his lungs called bronchial malacia. “I didn’t think he was going to leave the hospital alive.”
And here’s where the amazing part comes in:
With hopes dimming that Kaiba would survive, doctors tried the medical equivalent of a “Hail Mary” pass. Using an experimental technique never before tried on a human, they created a splint made out of biological material that effectively carved a path through Kaiba’s blocked airway.
What makes this a medical feat straight out of science fiction: The splint was created on a three-dimensional printer.
“It’s magical to me,” said Dr. Glenn Green, an associate professor of pediatric otolaryngology at the University of Michigan who implanted the splint in Kaiba. “We’re talking about taking dust and using it to build body parts.”
Kaiba’s procedure was described in a letter published in the most recent issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.
“It was pretty nifty that (doctors) were able to make something for Kaiba on a printer like that,” April Gionfriddo said. “But we really weren’t so worried about that. We were more worried about our son.”
Green, who has been practicing for two decades, and a UM colleague, biomedical engineer Scott Hollister, had been working for years toward a clinical trial to test the splint in children with pulmonary issues when they got a phone call from a physician in Ohio who was aware of their research.
“He said, ‘I’ve got a child who needs (a splint) now,’ ” referring to Kaiba, said Green. “He said that this child is not going to live unless something is done.”
What followed in Kaiba’s case was a painstaking process of creating the splint on the printer in layers. Information about each layer is transmitted from the computer to a laser beam, which melts the PCL into a 3-D structure.
“We can put together a complete copy of a body part on the 3-D printer within a day,” Green said. “So we can make something very specific for a patient very quickly.”
Green then took the splint, measuring just a few centimeters long and 8 millimeters wide, and surgically attached it to Kaiba’s collapsed bronchus. It was only moments before he saw the results.
“When the stitches were put in, we started seeing the lung inflate and deflate,” Green said. “It was so fabulous. There were people in the operating room cheering.”
“This case is a wonderful example that regenerative technologies are no longer science fiction,” said Dr. Andre Terzic, director of the Mayo Clinic Center for Regenerative Medicine, who was not involved in Kaiba’s case. “We are increasingly … finding new solutions that we didn’t have before.”
The technique used by Green and Hollister is part of a burgeoning field called regenerative medicine, which involves engineering therapies — using things like stem cells, or “body parts” constructed out of biological material — to harness the body’s ability to heal itself.
We’ve written here several times about the revolutionary impact that 3-D printers are having in the area of gun regulation. Here we have an example of how they are just starting to have impacts in other areas. This is an regenerative splint. Someday, maybe, we’ll be talking about “human” tissues and perhaps entire organs created artificially. The lives this could save are uncountable, and the potential of this technology is unfathomable.
Kaiba Gionfriddo is alive today because of a 3-D printer, something that didn’t exist 20 years ago and was still theoretical a decade ago. In either era, he’d most likely be dead today. That’s just amazing.
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