In a medical first, doctors used plastic particles and a 3D laser printer to create an airway splint to save the life of a baby boy who used to stop breathing nearly every day. It's the latest advance from the booming field of regenerative medicine, making body parts in the lab. In the case of Kaiba Gionfriddo, doctors didn't have a moment to spare. Because of a birth defect, the little Ohio boy's airway kept collapsing, causing his breathing to stop and often his heart, too. Doctors in Michigan had been researching artificial airway splints but had not implanted one in a patient yet.
In a single day, they "printed out" 100 tiny tubes, using computer-guided lasers to stack and fuse thin layers of plastic instead of paper and ink to form various shapes and sizes. The next day, with special permission from the FDA, they implanted one of these tubes in Kaiba, the first time this has been done. Suddenly, a baby that doctors had said would probably not leave the hospital alive could breathe normally for the first time. He was 3 months old when the operation was done last year and is nearly 19 months old now. "He's a pretty healthy kid right now," says a doctor at CS Mott Children's Hospital of the University of Michigan, where the operation was done. It's described in tomorrow's New England Journal of Medicine. Independent experts praised the work and the potential for 3D printing to create more body parts to solve unmet medical needs. (Read more medical breakthrough stories.)