3-D printer saves baby's life

It's the latest advance from the booming field of regenerative medicine.

In a first, doctors used plastic particles and a 3-D laser printer to create an airway splint to save a baby boy who would stop breathing for a time nearly every day.

In the case of Kaiba Gionfriddo in the US state of Ohio, doctors didn't have a moment to spare. Because of a birth defect, the boy's airway kept collapsing, causing his breathing and heart to stop often. Doctors in Michigan had been researching artificial airway splints, but had not implanted one in a patient yet.

Then in a single day, they "printed out" 100 tiny tubes, using computer-guided lasers to stack and fuse thin layers of plastic instead of paper and ink to form various shapes and sizes.

The next day, with special permission from the US Food and Drug Administration, they implanted one of these tubes in Kaiba, the first time this has been done.

Suddenly, a baby that doctors had said would probably not leave the hospital alive could breathe normally for the first time.

He was three months old when the operation was done last year and is 19 months old now.

He is about to have his tracheotomy tube removed; it was placed when he was two months old and needed a breathing machine. And he has not had a single breathing crisis since returning home a year ago, reported AP.

"He's a pretty healthy kid right now," said Dr Glenn Green, a paediatric ear, nose and throat specialist at CS Mott Children's Hospital of the University of Michigan, where the operation was done and was described in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Independent experts praised the work and the potential for 3-D printing to create more body parts to solve unmet medical needs.

"It's the wave of the future," said Dr Robert Weatherly, a paediatric specialist at the University of Missouri in Kansas City. "I'm impressed by what they were able to accomplish."

So far, only a few adults have had trachea, or windpipe transplants, usually to replace ones destroyed by cancer. The windpipes came from dead donors or were lab-made.

Kaiba had a different problem - an incompletely formed bronchus, one of the two airways that branch off the windpipe like pant legs to the lungs.

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