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A 3-year-old boy has become the first patient in the world to be cured of a potentially fatal illness thanks to a biodegradable implant made to the young patient's exact specifications by 3-D printing technology, the Independent is reporting.
The printed splints were designed to keep the boy's windpipe open while allowing it to grow normally. The procedure has been performed on a total of three U.S. children thus far.
"We report that this engineering design has worked as intended and that the first [patient] to receive this implant three years ago appears to be cured of tracheobronchomalacia with [a] splint that has not functionally degraded," said Glen Green, who was part of the operation team at Mott's Children's Hospital at the University of Michigan.
Tracheobronchomalacia affects about 1 in 2,000 babies and causes the windpipe to collapse periodically, preventing normal breathing and leading to health complications and premature death.
The implants were made from a nontoxic, degradable polymer, and printed layer by layer into its final three-dimensional shape based on information gathered directly from CT scans of each patient's windpipe. The scientists fine-tuned the printing instructions for the devices to suit each child's individual needs.
"These cases broke new ground for us because we were able to use 3-D printing to design a device that successfully restored patients' breathing through a procedure that had never been done before," Green said. "Before this procedure, babies with severe tracheobronchomalacia had little chance of surviving. Today, our first patient Kaiba [shown in the photo above] is an active, healthy 3-year-old in preschool with a bright future. The device worked better than we could have ever imagined."
Green also added that the device "is the first 3-D–printed implant specifically designed to change shape over time to allow for a child's growth before finally resorbing as the disease is cured."