Doctors did not expect newborn Kaiba Gionfridoo to live long when he was found to have a serious tracheal condition that inhibited his ability to breathe. The infant had a collapsed bronchus and had to be resuscitated on a daily basis. At a loss for solutions, his doctors contacted medical researchers at the University of Michigan for help. Glenn Green, M.D. and Scott Hollister, Ph.D. had designed a 3D-printed tracheal splint made of polycaprolactone, a biopolymer that eventually dissolves in the body. 21 days after the splint was implanted Kaiba was taken off breathing support, and 20 months later he continues to breathe on his own.

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Green and Hollister had to get special permission from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to use the device. Once permission was granted, the team designed a custom 3-D printed splint for Kaiba, which was based on CT imaging of his trachea/bronchus. They then sewed the spongy material around his airway, thereby expanding his bronchus and permitting air to flow normally, reports Science Daily. The splint also provides “a skeleton to aid proper growth,” writes Science Daily.

“It was amazing,” Green said. “As soon as the splint was put in, the lungs started going up and down for the first time and we knew he was going to be OK.”

The complete development of Kaiba’s own bronchus will correspond with the point at which the body will reabsorb the splint, making the biopolymer an excellent choice for this and other applications. This inspiring case was featured in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Via Science Daily