3D airway splint

Taken in the broadest scope, not all wearable Health Tech devices are electronic. Doctors at the University of Michigan have developed a way to print 3D splints that can help infants with a rare condition survive. The patients are born with a restricted airway that prevents the child from breathing out successfully. Doctors reasoned that they needed to develop an implant to help keep the airway open until they grew older and their lungs grew big enough that they could breath on their own.

The problem is that each patient is unique, and the splint must be of the correct length and diameter to fit their individual air passage. Timing is critical, as many infants with this disease will die without intervention. The doctors came up with a solution that uses a 3D printing process to create a splint custom-fit for the patient. It is surgically implanted, and the airway is stitched to the supporting structure. The splint is open along one edge, so that it can grow as the child grows. And it is made of a material that is absorbed by the child’s body in a few years, at which point the lungs will be large enough to breath reliably without the extra support.

The procedure has been used with three infants, all who have survived and are growing. The FDA has to grant emergency approval in each case, however, and the researchers hope to start clinical trials so that the procedure can be made more widely available. This technology could be applied to other conditions where support is needed but that still allows the body to grow normally.