Tag Archives: severe tracheobronchomalacia

3D printed bone transplants a success in Japan

3D printing technology is fast becoming mainstream in the medical world. Indeed, earlier this summer, researchers managed to design and print a 3D splint that saved the life of an infant born with severe tracheobronchomalacia – a serious birth defect that causes the airway to collapse. Melbourne scientists also took a big step towards the development of “grow your own” cartilage to treat cancers, osteoarthritis and traumatic injuries using 3D tech, while 3D printed orthopedic implants were successfully fitted in Peking’s University Third Hospital in Beijing.

And now doctors at the Kyoto University Graduate School of Medicine in Japan have successfully transplanted 3D printed bones into four patients with cervical spine (cervical) disc herniation. Following the transplants, symptoms such as gait disturbance and hand numbness improved.

The cost of making such artificial bones is only several thousand yen (1000 yen = 10 US dollars).

“Based on images of MRI and CT scan of patient’s neck, researchers sent the design file to a 3D printer,” a 3DERs.org writer explained. “Composed by thin layers of titanium powder the 3D printed bone fit perfectly to the cervical spine. After an extra chemical and heat treatment the 3D printed bone was transplanted into the patient’s neck.”

The cost of making such artificial bones, including part of a skull, femur and spine? Only several thousand yen per bone (1,000 yen = 10 US dollars).

As previously discussed on Bits & Pieces, the Maker Movement has used Atmel-powered 3D printers like MakerBot and RepRap for quite some time now, but it is quite clear that 3D printing recently entered a new and important stage in the medical space.

3D-printed splint saves an infant’s life

The Maker Movement has used 3D printers like MakerBot and RepRap for quite some time now, but it is abundantly clear that 3D printing is quickly entering a new and important stage.

Indeed, just half a millennium after Johannes Gutenberg printed the bible, researchers designed and printed a 3D splint that saved the life of an infant born with severe tracheobronchomalacia – a serious birth defect that causes the airway to collapse.


And while similar surgeries have been performed with tissue donations and windpipes created from stem cells, this is the very first time 3D printing has been used to treat tracheobronchomalacia – at least in a live human. Previously, researchers tested 3D-printed, bioresorbable airway splints in porcine, or pig, animal models with severe, life-threatening tracheobronchomalacia.

“All of our work is physician inspired. Babies suffering from tracheobronchomalacia were brought to ear, nose and throat surgeons, but they didn’t have any treatment options,” said Matthew Wheeler, a University of Illinois Professor of Animal Sciences and member of the Regenerative Biology and Tissue Engineering research theme at the Institute for Genomic Biology (IGB). “They turned to us to engineer a cure.”

According to Wheeler, Kaiba (KEYE’-buh) Gionfriddo was six weeks old when he suddenly stopped breathing and turned blue at a restaurant with his parents. As a result of severe tracheobronchomalacia, his heart would often stop beating, and despite the aid of a mechanical ventilator, he had to be resuscitated daily by doctors.

April and Bryan Gionfriddo believed their son’s chance of survival was slim until Marc Nelson, a doctor at Akron Children’s Hospital in Ohio, told them researchers at the University of Michigan were testing airway splints similar to those used in Wheeler’s study. After obtaining emergency clearance from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Scott Hollister, a professor of biomedical engineering at the University of Michigan, and U-M associate professor of pediatric otolaryngology Glenn Green, used computer-guided lasers to print, stack, and fuse thin layers of plastic to make up Kaiba’s splint.

Ultimately, the splint was sewn around Kaiba’s airway to expand his collapsed bronchus and provide support for tissue growth. A slit in the side of the splint allows it to expand as Kaiba’s airway grows. In about three years, after Kaiba’s trachea has reconstructed itself, his body will reabsorb the splint as the PCL naturally degrades. His success story provides hope for other children born with this disorder, an estimated 1 in 2,100 births.

“It’s not very rare. It’s really not. I think it’s very rewarding to all of us to know that we are contributing to helping treat or even cure this disease,” Wheeler added.

“We have a reputation for being excellent in this area. We would like to capitalize on the expertise and the facilities that we have here to continue to conduct life-saving research. I’m hoping that this story will encourage more people come to us and say ‘Hey, we’d like to develop this model.’”