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Forget printing guns, doctors use 3D printer to save baby

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
May 23rd, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Much has been made over the development of the 3D printer and its ability to create guns and possibly food. Now, the 3D printer has a new acclaim. Doctors have used one to save the life of an infant.

COLUMBUS, OH (Catholic Online) - At just 6 weeks of age, Kaiba Gionfriddo began experiencing breathing problems. His father performed CPR on him for the first time at a restaurant when he unexpectedly stopped breathing.

Doctors concluded the baby was choking and released him.

Two days later, he stopped breathing again.

Eventually, it became a daily ritual of CPR and hurried rushes to the hospital. Doctors took a better look and concluded that Kaiba  was suffering a bronchial obstruction known as "bronchial malacia." It's a rare and often fatal defect that prevents babies from breathing. Survivors must spend the rest of their lives on a  ventilator.

Doctors, losing hope they could save Kaiba, considered a long shot. Using a medical technique that had never before been attempted on a human, they created a splint made from a special material that the body would accept and would keep open the airway within baby Kaiba's lungs.

The amazing feat, was not only the use of a safe, workable material to accomplish the task, but that the splint was created on a 3D printer.

"It's magical to me," Dr. Glenn Green, an associate professor of pediatric otolaryngology at the University of Michigan, told CNN. Dr. Green implanted the splint in Kaiba. "We're talking about taking dust and using it to build body parts."

The procedure was detailed in the New England Journal of Medicine.

"It was pretty nifty that [doctors] were able to make something for Kaiba on a printer like that," Kaiba's mother, April said. "But we really weren't so worried about that. We were more worried about our son."

The printer used a special biological material known as polycaprolactone, or PCL.

PCL is a powder and it can be crafted into items that can be inserted safely into the body. Normally, doctors use it to close holes in human heads following brain surgery. Over time, the material dissolves and is replaced with natural tissue.

Dr. Green explained that a body part can be printed out over the course of a day. The printer allows doctors to make very specific items for patients that are safe for implantation.

Doctors say the splint in Kaiba's lungs will degrade over the next three years. Beyond that time, he should develop normally.

Further clinical trials will now be performed and doctors expect that 3D printing will become as important a part of medicine as routine transplants of human organs.

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