In one of the medical industry’s biggest breakthroughs this century, three baby boys have been saved from a life-threatening breathing disorder by an unlikely combination of dedicated doctors, medical researchers, and a 3-D printer.
According to reports from LiveScience and IndustryWeek, researchers developed implants made of porous biomaterial, which can change shape and grow as the patients grow, making it possible for surgeons to use these implants on children with life-threatening medical conditions.
Not only do these implants change over a period of years, but they are custom-designed for each patient within a matter of days and are subsequently printed out on a 3-D printer, making them incredibly affordable.
The three boys, who all suffer from a severe case of a breathing disease called tracheobronchomalacia, were the first three patients to receive pediatric biomaterial implants for a severe respiratory illness. All three boys underwent surgery — successfully — at the University of Michigan’s C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital.
Tracheobronchomalacia is condition that affects about one in every 2,000 children globally and — before the creation of the implant — was considered incurable. It is a respiratory condition which causes the windpipe to collapse; even with the help of ventilators and heavy sedatives to keep them from moving, children with this disease typically have life expectancies of a few days to a few weeks after birth.
In the rare cases where children were kept alive beyond this point with ventilators and sedatives, their lungs began strengthening by age two or three; another major benefit of the 3-D printed implants, according to LiveScience, is that they will dissolve over time as the children’s breathing passages get stronger.
3-D printing has been used in the medical industry for a variety of other medical needs, such as hearing aids and dental implants, and these creations have been very successful.
Dental implants, for example, already have a 98% success rate according to the data collected from multiple studies, but many patients are hesitant to seek out implants because they tend to be very expensive. By using a 3-D printer to create the implants, cosmetic dentists can lower the cost and the wait time for each patient exponentially. Dentists can create custom implants within a few days, and they can also print out duplicates of the same implants with very little manual labor.
The same notion applies to the three respiratory implants which have just been created, although with the added benefit of biomaterial, doctors were able to implant the devices without worrying about straining the children’s air passages.
The latest reports state that all three boys are at home with their families — something which doctors never predicted would happen — and are breathing normally without any sedatives, paralytics, or ventilators.