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How 4D printing is now saving lives

Lucas Mearian | May 19, 2016
In the future, 4D printing will be used for all types of implants and reconstructive surgery

peterson family
Jake and Natalie Peterson with their son Garrett, who had a 4D printed biomedical stint implanted in this trachea to hold it open while he grew. The operation allowed him to be removed from a ventilator he'd been on since birth. 
Credit: Lucas Mearian

 Sixteen-month-old Garrett Peterson's airways collapsed daily.

Peterson was born with bronchomalacia, weak cartilage in the walls of the bronchial tubes, and had spent his entire life at the University of Utah Hospital on a high-pressure ventilator to keep him alive.

Meanwhile, at the University of Michigan, biomedical engineer Scott Hollister had  developed a 3D printed splint that could absorb into the body over time but could hold open airways in newborns for two to three years; it was enough time for the bronchial cartilage to reform into healthy airways.

While still a risk, Garrett's parents -- Jake and Natalie -- had their baby flown by an intensive care unit plane to the University of Michigan. After a successful operation, their son was able to be taken off the ventilator and go home.

4D printing
Morrison et al., Science Translational Medicine (2015) Images of the three trachea implants created using CT scans and 3D imaging software.

The biomedical splint is just one example of how 3D printing -- with either lab-generated tissue or biomaterials -- can now be used to create implantable devices to correct medical conditions.

The science is known as 4D printing because the implants can conform over time as the body moves or grows, according to Dr. Robert Morrison, a resident otolaryngology-head and neck surgeon at the University of Michigan.

Morrison and Hollister spoke at the RAPID 3D Printing and Manufacturing Conference here today.

To date, the engineering and surgical staff at the University of Michigan have successfully implanted the stints in four babies, all of whom were able to go home just weeks after their surgeries.

The stints are made by first performing a CT scan of a patient, creating a virtual model of the trachea. Then medical imaging software called Mimics from Belgium-based 3D printer maker Materialise NV is used to model the virtual stint onto the tracheal image.

Next, that image is uploaded to a Formiga P100 3D printer from Munich-based EOS, which uses laser sintering to bind layers of polycaprolactone (PCL), a biomaterial, layer by layer into the shape of a specific trachea.

trachea implants
University of Michigan Three of four patient 4D printed trachea stints implanted at the University of Michigan Medical Center.


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