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A new study has suggested that a 3D-printed windpipe could help people with a life-threatening condition.
Doctors managed to use the device to help three babies breathe, who all suffered with a rare illness called tracheobronchomalacia that means their windpipes can collapse, stopping air getting into their lungs.
The windpipe was customised to individually fit each baby and, unlike many other 3D-printed implants, they were made of material that will change shape as the children grow.
Published in the journal Science Translational Medicine, the has been described as a groundbreaking case by lead researcher Dr Glenn Green.
The device was first developed by a team at the University of Michigan’s C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital (CSMC) in 2012. They created a small splint that was able to hold open the airway as the child's body grew.
To produce the device, researchers took a high resolution CT scan of the trachea and bronchus and 3D printed each splint to perfectly match the child's throat. Made of polycaprolactone, it is designed to gradually dissolve as the babies’ tracheas grow.
The three babies in this initial study were granted special emergency clearance from the US Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) and have been analysed over time to see how the splints were developing alongside the child.
However, the researchers warn that the small number of participants makes it unclear whether this approach would work for every patient with the condition.
It is estimated that around one in 2,000 children have tracheobronchomalacia and those with the most severe cases have little chance of surviving. However, if they can reach three years old, their windpipes have usually strengthened enough to allow them to breathe well.
This means the 3D-printed splints could be an ideal solution for a condition that can be fatal and that currently has no cure, according to the researchers at the University of Michigan.
Written by Angela Newbury
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