Kaiba Gionfriddo, a 20-month-old boy, has become the first person in the world to receive an airway splint made using a 3-D printer. The boy had a collapsed bronchus that was disrupting the airflow to his lungs, making him unable to breathe.

Kaiba was suffering from severe tracheobronchomalacia. About one in 2,200 babies are born with tracheomalacia, a condition often misdiagnosed as asthma.

Doctors have said that the tissue generated in the lab will be completely absorbed by the body in about three years.


The surgery was conducted at C.S. Mott Children's Hospital Feb. 9, 2012. The splint is designed to give Kaiba a kind of supporting structure to hold up the bronchus and let it grow. Kaiba was reportedly taken off the ventilator after 21 days and he hasn't had any difficulties in breathing since the surgery.

The case study has been published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Glenn Green, M.D., associate professor of pediatric otolaryngology at the University of Michigan along with Scott Hollister, Ph.D., from U-M have been credited with the groundbreaking development of the biomaterial.

The team made the custom-designed device using scans obtained from Kaiba's CT scan. They then printed out the device using a 3-D printer.

The researchers obtained an emergency clearance from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to implant the tracheal splint for the boy. The splint is made from a biopolymer called polycaprolactone.

"Kaiba's case is definitely the highlight of my career so far. To actually build something that a surgeon can use to save a person's life? It's a tremendous feeling," said Hollister in a news release.

"Severe tracheobronchomalacia has been a condition that has bothered me for years," said Green. "I've seen children die from it. To see this device work, it's a major accomplishment and offers hope for these children."

Researchers add that other tissues can be made using similar technology. They are already working on testing patient specific ear and nose structures.