Researchers developed new 3D-printed device which saved the lives of Kaiba, Garrett and Ian in the US who had a terminal form of tracheobronchomalacia -- a severe disease which causes the windpipe to collapse periodically and prevents normal breathing.
There was no cure and life-expectancies were grim. The custom-designed airway splints from University of Michigan's CS Mott Children's Hospital have kept their airways open, restored their breathing and saved their lives.
"These cases broke new ground for us because we were able to use 3D printing to design a device that successfully restored patients' breathing through a procedure that had never been done before," explained senior author Glenn Green, associate professor of paediatric otolaryngology.
Kaiba was just a newborn when he turned blue because his little lungs were not getting the oxygen they needed. Garrett spent the first year of his life in hospital beds tethered to a ventilator, being fed through his veins because his body was too sick to absorb food. Baby Ian's heart stopped before he was even six-months-old.
Using 3D printing, Green and his colleague Scott Hollister were able to create and implant customised tracheal splints for each patient. The device was created directly from CT scans of their tracheas, integrating an image-based computer model with laser-based 3D printing to produce the splint.
The splint was sewn around their airways to expand the trachea and bronchus and give it a skeleton to aid proper growth. The splint is designed to be reabsorbed by the body over time.
Researchers closely followed their cases to see how well the airway splints implanted in all three patients worked and the results are promising.
"Today, our first patient Kaiba is an active, healthy three-year-old in preschool with a bright future. The device worked better than we could have ever imagined," Green informed.
Now an energetic two-and-a-half-year-old with a contagious laugh, Garrett is able to breathe on his own and spend his days ventilator-free. Ian, now 17-months-old, is known for his huge grins, enthusiastic high fives and love for playing with his big brother, Owen.
None of the devices, which were implanted in then three-month-old Kaiba, five-month-old Ian and 16-month-old Garrett have caused any complications. The findings also show that the patients were able to come off of ventilators and no longer needed paralytics, narcotics and sedation.
Researchers noted improvements in multiple organ systems. "This treatment continues to prove to be a promising option for children facing this life-threatening condition that has no cure," the authors concluded.
The results were published in the journal Science Translational Medicine