3D printed airway splints restore breathing

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At the University of Michigan, three children under 2 with tracheobronchomalacia had 3D printed devices implanted to open their airways and restore their breathing.

Professors Glenn Green and Scott Hollister were able to create and implant customized tracheal splints for each patient. The device was created directly from CT scans of their tracheas, integrating an image-based computer model with laser-based 3D printing to produce the splint.

The splint was sewn around the patient’s airways to expand the trachea and bronchus and give it a skeleton to aid proper growth. It is designed to be reabsorbed by the body over time. The growth of the airways were followed with CT and MRI scans, and it was shown to allow airway growth for all three patients.

The findings suggest that early treatment of tracheobronchomalacia may prevent complications of conventional treatment such as a tracheostomy, prolonged hospitalization, mechanical ventilation, cardiac and respiratory arrest, food malabsorption and discomfort. None of the devices implanted in this study have caused complications.

The bioresorable splints enabled the patients to come off of ventilators and ended their need for paralytics, narcotics and sedation.  Researchers noted improvements in multiple organ systems.  The patients were also relieved of immunodeficiency-causing proteins that prevented them from absorbing food so that they no longer needed intravenous therapy.

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