Thanks to 3D printed, growth-flexible implants, three baby boys now have the chance to overcome a growth defect that would have likely kept them from living past infant-hood.
A Grim Illness
The boys are suffering from pediatric tracheobronchomalacia (TBM), a condition that causes a weak airway at high risk of collapse, resulting in halted breathing and heart failure. Conventionally, the only treatment available came with high risk complications. The babies would need a tracheostomy tube with a mechanical ventilator. This would keep the boys in the hospital because of potential life-threatening complications, such as respiratory arrest from accidental tube occlusion. About one in every 2000 children are affected by the disease.
In a new experiment, researchers at the University of Michigan’s C.S. Mott took a different approach by fitting the three baby boys with a 3D-printed stents that were designed to be flexible as their airways grow.
According to the research paper published in Science Translational Medicine, "If a child can be supported through the first 24 to 36 months of tracheobronchomalacia, airway growth generally results in a natural resolution of this disease.”
The Three Successes
The stents were developed for 3 boys with TBM; Kaiba who was 3 months old, Ian who was 5 months old, and Garrett who was 16 months old. After three years of observation, the stents seemed to be working well.
Dr. Glenn Green, senior author on the paper, said, ”Before this procedure, 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 stents were made with polycaprolactone, which is a harmless substance when dissolved in the body. The devices were also ultra-personalized for each patient’s anatomy on the “submillimeter scale.” They were able to personalize and 3D print the inner diameter, number of suture holes, wall thickness and length of the devices, which are made of biomaterials that are designed to expand. The tubes were also designed to allow doctors to manually expand their radius as the babies grew larger.
Another important benefit of the 3D printing method for the babies was that surgeons could print models of their trachea and bronchi to practice the operation beforehand. Dr. Richard Ohye was the lead pediatric cardiovascular surgeon who worked with the boys. He thinks that these three successes suggest that clinical trials with less-severe TBM will be possible in the near future.
"The device worked better than we could have ever imagined,” said Dr. Green. “We have been able to successfully replicate this procedure and have been watching patients closely to see whether the device is doing what it was intended to do.
We found that this treatment continues to prove to be a promising option for children facing this life-threatening condition that has no cure.”