For the first three months of his life, Kaiba Gionfriddo's airway collapsed repeatedly, occasionally causing his heart to stop and leaving many doctors at a loss for how to help him. Then, in the first procedure of its kind, doctors in Michigan used a 3D printing method to create an artificial splint to help Kaiba breathe without the assistance of a breathing machine for the first time, according to the Associated Press.
Since the operation, which was performed in February 2012, the now 19-month-old Ohio boy has been able to breathe on his own without a single breathing crisis. Doctors will soon remove his breathing tube, the AP reports.
Due to the rare nature of the procedure, the University of Michigan doctors behind the transplant had to consult with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the New England Journal of Medicine reports. But the success of the project could help pave the way for 3D printing as a more commonly used tool in healthcare.
"This case shows that high-resolution imaging, computer-aided design, and biomaterial three-dimensional printing together can facilitate the creation of implantable devices for conditions that are anatomically specific for a given patient," the NEMJ summarized.
Kaiba suffered from an incompletely formed bronchus, which is one of the two main airways that branch off the windpipe, the AP reports. While the problem isn't entirely rare the AP says about 2,000 babies are born with the defect each year the symptoms can sometimes be fatal. Kaiba's parents, April and Bryan Gionfriddo, first learned of it after Kaiba stopped breathing while the family was at a restaurant. Bryan Gionfriddo performed CPR to resuscitate his son before bringing him to a hospital, but at the time doctors began preparing the parents for the worst.
"Quite a few of them said he had a good chance of not leaving the hospital alive. It was pretty scary," April Gionfriddo told the AP. "We pretty much prayed every night, hoping that he would pull through."
Kaiba's case may mark a historical moment in the progress of 3D printing. According to the AP, previous trachea replacement procedures have relied on donors, which could make for a long waiting period, or stem cells, which have been wildly controversial.Healthcare is now the third industry to see high-profile 3D printing news this month alone. At the beginning of the month, Defense Distributed founder Cody Wilson made waves in the weapons manufacturing and gun control discussion by firing the world's first 3D-printed gun. And earlier this week, NASA issued a grant to help develop 3D-printed food, which could help advance space travel and potentially stem world hunger issues.
Colin Neagle covers emerging technologies and the startup scene for Network World. Follow him on Twitter and keep up with the Microsoft, Cisco and Open Source community blogs. Colin's email address is email@example.com.
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