3D printing saving lives in the operating room
Published Saturday, March 22, 2014 10:06PM EDT
For 18-month-old Garrett Peterson, every breath is a struggle.
He was born with a condition known as tracheomalacia, a disease that deforms the muscles around the trachea and makes it difficult to breathe.
Garrett breathes with the help of a ventilator and even the slightest movement can cut-off air to his lungs in a matter of seconds.
“When nurses would just move his head from side to side, he would just turn blue like instantly,” explains Garrett’s mother Natalie Peterson.
While some forms of tracheomalacia can be cured with the help of physiotherapy or surgery, doctors at the University of Michigan are turning to an emerging technology for a potential cure: 3D printing.
Everything from car parts and toys to fashion accessories and guns are now being made with 3D printers, but doctors believe its biggest potential may be in the field of medicine.
Dr. Scott Hollister, professor of biomedical engineering at the University of Michigan, has teamed up with heart surgeons to design a splint using a 3D printer that would support Garrett’s trachea until it grows strong enough to function on its own.
“It takes about three years for the material to degrade. By that time the trachea itself will grow and remodel into a trachea that has a normal architecture,” Hollister told CTV News.
The splint is built using a preliminary 3D digital design which is then sliced into layers that are printed one at a time until the final product takes shape.
While Garrett is only the second patient in the world to have the procedure done, doctors have been using 3D printing to help reconstruct bones, organs, arteries and more with varying degrees of success for the past 10 years.
At Toronto’s Sick Children’s Hospital, engineers are creating 3D replicas of patients’ hearts to help doctors plan their surgeries.
“Instead of having to do that in my mind, I can take this model, which does it in a printed form and look at it, and say ‘I know exactly what it is and I know exactly what I’m going to do in the operating room’,” Dr. Glen Van Arsdell told CTV News.
The replicas are based on 2D CAT scans or MRIs, and can be built using plastics, metals or acrylics.
“We’re so excited about being able to do this and be able to help patients with this new technology,” said Dr. Eric Horlick from Toronto General Hospital.
In fact, layer by layer, doctors are recreating replacement parts for much of the human body including ears, noses, bladders and bones.
• In 2013, surgeons in the U.K. were able to recreate a man’s face with models, plates and screws produced by 3D printers.
• Earlier this year, researchers in Harvard used a specially-designed 3D printer to create a patch of artificial tissue interlaced with skin cells and blood vessels.
• In March, San Diego-based bio-printing company Organovo Holdings Inc. announced that it was using 3D printing to create tissue that may one day look and function like a human liver. The company says the new technology could soon provide drug makers with realistic replicas of human tissue for drug testing and may eventually recreate human organs for the purpose of transplants and surgeries.
Doctors say the revolutionary technology could help improve their accuracy and speed up surgery times, saving the lives of countless patients like Garrett all by pressing “print.”
With a report by CTV Medical Specialist Avis Favaro and Producer Elizabeth St. Philip