Posthumans may use bioprinting for self improvement, but the technology will be mostly used for curing ailments in its early days. Dr. Glenn Green is associate professor of otolaryngology at the University of Michigan and one of his patients suffers from tracheobronchomalaci. After having a child recently die in the hospital from the disorder, Dr. Green responded, “There has got to be a solution that we can find for these kids.” So he and his colleagues found that solution. Specifically, they 3D printed it.
Kaiba Gionfriddo is Green’s patient, and at just a few weeks old his lung collapsed. Even on a ventilator, Kaiba had to be resuscitated several times. The disorder causes a weakened bronchus, so it doesn’t hold open under the pressure of breathing. So Kaiba’s doctors printed a splint to give support to his airway. Most children outgrow the condition, so it’s hoped that Kaiba only needs the splint temporarily. As such, the splint was printed out of a biopolymer, so over a few years it will dissolve. Green commented, “Our prediction is that this will be a cure for him.” Indeed, Kaiba was able to go off of the ventilator three weeks after the surgery.
His mother is especially excited about the success of the operation, saying “We’re really relieved and happy that he’s not turning blue anymore.” Though it wasn’t the first FDA approved 3D printed implant, Kaiba’s implant got special clearance because his life was in immediate danger.
Bioprinted implants will become more popular in the coming years, as the surgery encouraged Dr. Sidhu Gangadharan, chief of thoracic surgery at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, to consider using 3D printed solutions in emergency situations; he related, “They had a really unique problem and they came up with a unique solution.” To further advance the methodology, doctors are planning a clinical trial where printed implants will go into children that have conditions that are not life threatening.