To the amazingly wide-ranging list of accomplishments attributed to 3D printing technology, we can now add one more: a custom-made tracheal splint that saved the life of an infant with tracheomalacia and will be safely absorbed into his tissue over the next two years. A team of doctors and engineers from the University of Michigan printed the splint and implanted it into six-week-old Kaiba Gionfriddo last year, and announced the feat in a letter published today in the New England Journal of Medicine.
In December of 2011, Giondriddo was born with tracheomalacia, a condition that affects roughly 1 in 2200 American babies. Typically, the weakened cartilage causes some difficulty breathing, but children grow out of it by age 2 or 3 as the trachea naturally strengthens over time. His case, though, was particularly severe, and in February 2012, his parents April and Bryan were out to dinner when they noticed that he suddenly stopped breathing and was turning blue.