Kaiba Gionfriddo was just six weeks old when he was diagnosed with severe tracheobronchomalacia, a rare respiratory disease that caused his airway to collapse, making him stop breathing and turn blue. At just two months’ old, baby Kaiba had to be intubated to help him breathe, but even this wasn’t enough, and he had to be resuscitated every day.
The family consulted several doctors, but the news was less than positive, with “quite a few doctors (saying) that he had a good chance of not leaving the hospital alive,” reports CBS News.
Desperate, the family turned to Dr. Glen Green, associate professor of pediatric otolaryngology at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Together with colleague, Dr. Scott Hollister, Green used a 3-D printer to create a custom-made airway splint. The splint was created using a biodegradable polyester called polycaprolactone. After receiving emergency clearance from the Food and Drug Administration, the splint was installed in Kaiba’s airway. According to Time Magazine, the device helped the baby’s airway to expand, and gave it a “skeleton to help it grow properly and with greater strength.”
Three weeks after his operation, baby Kaiba no longer needed a ventilator to support his breathing, and he hasn’t had trouble breathing since.
3-D printing is a process by which layers of material are slowly built up, based on a digital model, to form a solid object. Unlike conventional manufacturing techniques, which often rely on the chipping away of material to get the final product, 3-D printing takes the opposite approach by building the object from scratch.
The first reported use of 3-D printing or additive manufacturing was in 1981 by Japanese researcher, Hideo Kodama, of the Nagoya Municipal Industrial Research Institute. Nowadays, 3-D printing is commonly used for building prototypes. The technology is also promising for rapid manufacturing, and mass customization. It has also captured the imagination of hobbyists, with the technology having been used to build clocks and gears.
3-D printing has been touted to be the cure for problems from world hunger (3-D printed food built from cartridges of nutritious powders and oils) to the shortage of donor organs. But the technology also has a more sinister side, with the world’s first 3-D printed gun being printed and successfully test-fired. Authorities are now saying that it could be impossible to stop the proliferation of these guns, as the design is freely available online, and 3-D printing technology can be used at home.