3D Printed Splint Saves Baby’s Life


Here’s another heartwarming story about how 3D printers are continuing to make a real difference in the medical world. [Garrett] is just a baby whose bronchi collapse when breathing — he’s been on a ventilator for most of his life — Until now.

[Scott Hollister] is a professor of Biomedical Engineering and Mechanical Engineering, as well as being an associate professor of surgery at the University of Michigan. Between him and [Doctor Glen Green], an associate professor of Pediatric Otolaryngology, they have created a bioresorbable device that could save little [Garrett’s] life.

By taking CT scans of [Garrett’s] bronchi and trachea, they were able to create a 3D model and design a “splint” to help support the bronchi from collapsing during normal breathing. If all goes well, within 3 years, the splint will dissolve in his body and he will be able to breath normally for good. The material in question is a biopolymer called polycaprolactone, which they were actually granted emergency clearance from the FDA to use for [Garrett]. They used an EOS SLS based 3D printer.

The surgery was successful, and [Garrett] is now on the road to recovery. Stick around for a few videos showing of the printing process and surgery.

And [Garrett’s] story:

[Thanks Paul!]

31 thoughts on “3D Printed Splint Saves Baby’s Life

  1. Wow, first I’ve heard of polycaprolactone being used as a 3D printing medium. (But apparently it’s not uncommon outside the hobby 3D printing market…) I’ve got a jar of pellets on my workbench, they come in handy in a lot of odd situations when you just need to quickly form a part– temporary or otherwise –by hand or simple mold. (Or to form a quick mold, for that matter.)

        1. I think the splints actually are on the outside of the bronchia (I think that’s what those parts of the airway are called, but I am obviously not a doctor), although it’s not quite clear to me how that would prevent them from collapsing. If the splint would be on the inside, the surgery would be even more invasive, and I’d think using bioresorbable material would be very dangerous, because it would probably break into smaller fragments when degrading, which could go into the lungs.

          It’s quite amazing that they can do this on such a small and fragile child, and I think it’s great that some doctors are willing to do some unconventional things when the need arises.

          1. From TFA: “The splints were sewn around Garrett’s right and left bronchi to expand the airways and give it external support to aid proper growth.”
            Also shouldn’t the title be “3D printed splint potentially saves baby’s life”?
            Good article anyway.

    1. More to the point, I never would’ve thought it’d be a good candidate for implants given that it has a melting point you can almost reach with your hot-water tap. (It certainly gets a bit more putty-like at the 130-degrees F I can get from my kitchen sink…water heated in the microwave will melt it real good though.)

      It’s a pretty neat material. At room temperature, it has physical properties similar to UHMWPE, right down to the slick surface. I’ve never tried machining it, but I’d bet it machines nicely…assuming it doesn’t melt, that is.

      1. If any part of your airway reaches 130F you’ll have more to worry about than an implant melting, I’m sure the doctors took into account all the properties of the material before they even got close to implantation.

        1. No, I didn’t imagine it was a consideration for this implant and situation. But it probably rules out anything in the mouth or esophagus, since PCL could be compromised by something as simple as a cup of coffee or tea. (Google says the average temperature for a hot beverage is 160F.)

        2. They’d have to have, this kind of experimental treatment generally requires things like sign off by board of ethics before it can proceed. They’d need to have documented the potential risks and why they think they’re acceptable before they’d be permitted to go through with the surgery and could be on the line for malpractice if they left things out intentionally

      1. We do proofread our articles. That ‘N’ is very easy to miss. Since the editors see the tips before the articles are written we already know the subject and your brain will simply make the correction for you. Thanks for being kind about typos.

  2. All the hoopla they make about 3D printed guns and having to ban 3D printers… And here we have yet another story to show that its usefulness in was that can save lives. I wonder what they would say to themselves now.

    1. Has anyone actually proposed a 3d printer ban though?
      I’ve seen some talk of banning the gun files from being shared (futile practically of course), but I don’t think I heard anyone seriously consider a ban of the devices.

    2. Obviously we just need to ban 3D printers that can print firearms. At least ban them until printers’ firmware have restrictions to refuse to print gun parts.


      I’m sorry, is it too late for April Fools’?

      Anyhow, would a stent-like device have also worked? If so, what are the pros and cons between that (i.e., an internal support) and this (i.e., an external support)?

  3. I’m a 240lb, 6’1″ engineering, am bad tempered at times, and I can curse a blue steak that would make Bill Hick blush!

    …..this has made me cry and I’ve never been more proud to be an engineer in this age.

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