3D printing is not only used to create prosthetics but it has a lot of medical applications. Researchers from the University of Michigan used 3D printers to create splints made from compatible biomaterials to help children suffering from airway anomalies such as tracheobronchomalacia which is a condition that causes the airways to spontaneously collapse.
Children born with airway anomalies do not have any treatment options except surgery. But the problem with conventional surgical procedures is that children need to be on mechanical ventilation all throughout their lives. Thus, the researchers created the 3D printed splints made from polycaprolactone – a biodegradable splint – designed to act as a scaffold of the airway until the trachea can hold up on its own. This material is reabsorbed by the body after three years.
To create the splint that matches the exact shape of the patient’s trachea, the researchers use the imaging results such as MRI and CT scans from their individual patients. To sew the 3D printed splints, the surgeons sew them around the bronchus and the trachea to help guide and fortify these organs as the pediatric patient grows. Researchers also need to check the condition of the artificial splints periodically with CT scans and MRI.
This technology has already been tested on three patients and researchers were not able to take note of any complications. This means that this innovation can now be made available to clinical trials so that other patients can also take advantage of this 3D printed medical breakthrough.