Doctors Call Recipient of 3D Printed Trachea Scaffolding Cured Of A Potentially Fatal Condition

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Primary tracheobronchomalacia is a rare but serious genetic condition that causes the trachea to under develop during pregnancy and results in infants with weakened tracheas that in severe cases are unable to hold themselves open. The condition results in a wide array of symptoms that can include shortness of breath, persistent coughing or, in serious cases, sporadic collapsed windpipes that can be life threatening. In non-serious cases tracheobronchomalacia tends to resolve itself over time with little support, as the windpipe continues to develop and strengthen, but in serious cases, tracheobronchomalacia requires a surgical implanted splint be placed in the trachea to hold it open until the muscle strengthens enough to support it on its own.

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In 2012, three infants were chosen to receive 3D-printed biodegradable splints to correct severe tracheobronchomalacia. Researchers used CT scans of the children’s windpipes to create precise splints that matched their anatomy perfectly. The splints themselves were printed with a flexible polymer material that stretches with tissue growth and dissolves over time. These splits were surgically implanted in three patients, wrapping around their windpipes and providing structural support as the muscle and cartilage continued to develop for the next several years.

Over the course of the next three years, doctors monitored the three recipients and found that all three showed improved breathing and did not experience any complications from the new 3D-printed splints. Now, doctors have announced that the first of the three patients has been declared cured of his tracheobronchomalacia. His windpipe is now fully developed and the splint is actively biodegrading just as it was designed to do. His mother remembers the beginning of their journey, “The first time he was hospitalized, doctors told us he may not make it out. It was scary knowing he was the first child to ever have this procedure, but it was our only choice and it saved his life.”

Because the splint is able to change shape over time, its use is ideal for patients with severe tracheobronchomalacia. Glen Green, MD performed the first procedure at the C S Mott Children’s Hospital at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Green is optimistic about the use of 3D printing in this capacity. “Before this procedure,” he says, “Babies with severe tracheobronchomalacia had little chance of surviving. Today, our first patient, Kaiba, is an active, healthy 3-year-old in preschool with a bright future. The device worked better than we could have ever imagined.” Doctors report that the other two recipients are doing well and are on track for a full recovery as well. The team will continue to develop the technology and has started planning a clinical trial that will follow 30 patients who receive the splints.


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