Printing miracles in 3D - ABC 12 – WJRT – Flint, MI

Printing miracles in 3D

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(05/15/14) - 3D printers are not new - the automotive industry is using them to print all sorts of things. Now doctors are using them to print much more than "things".  Some great minds at the University of Michigan are using 3D technology to print miracles.

You are watching a miracle in the making. With each pass of this bar, this printer- yes it is a 3D printer- at the University of Michigan, is creating a custom-sized splint that will, if all goes as hoped, save a baby's life.

It happened for baby Garrett.  

"We just never imagined that he would come off the ventilator, but now with these splints, we think he'll come off the ventilator within a matter of months," said Garrett's father, Jake Peterson.

The windpipes, that carry air to and from Garrett's lungs, were pinched off - collapsing on themselves, making it impossible for the baby boy to breathe without a ventilator.

"He would just turn blue, like instantly. I will never forget seeing him for the first time like that, that was hard," said Natalie Peterson, Garrett's mother.

Just when it seemed like there was no hope, a large 3D printer in a lab on the U of M campus, far from Garrett's home in Utah, was hard at work, building what would be his miracle, and the only known treatment for his defect, called tracheobronchomalacia.

The finished product looks like a cylinder. It wraps around and stitched to the the collapsed part of the bronchi, causing it to open, and move correctly, so that air can travel to and from Garrett's lungs.  

"Seeing him do so well since surgery has actually started to give us both hope that we will get him home," Natalie says of her son who spent nearly the first two years of his life in the hospital.  

This splint, this procedure, might never have happened if Dr. Glenn Green, had had never met this Dr. Scott Hollister, a biomedical engineer, who also works at U of M.

The two men, who might have never crossed paths otherwise, met at a function and struck up a conversation. During a small-talk-generated game of "What Would You Do With a Million Dollars", the surgeon revealed that he would build something that would repair the breathing tubes of his tiny patients, so they would know what it is to live and breathe without a ventilator.

"Because there was really nothing out there to help him with this," Hollister says.  

As fate would have it, Dr. Hollister was using a 3D printer in his lab to create custom noses, ears and pieces of bone. He believed he could do the same thing to help Dr. Green's Patients, "You can take a patient's image data and you can design this directly for that patient. It is really patient specific or personalized medicine."

Using CT scans and other images, Dr. Hollister was able to build a model of Garrett's trachea and build custom splints for the baby boy, "So then we have essentially a blueprint, if you will, for making the device."

Hollister and his colleagues then program that "blueprint" into the 3D printer, in much the way you would format a document to send to your printer at home, "And then, essentially, the software that interfaces with the printer machine and it goes through and digitally slices that on a layer, by layer basis."

Slowly, methodically creating a 3D, out of a powdery bio-material. A laser, solidifies each layer. The process repeats until the splint is built. Once the first splint was made for the first patient, the doctors needed the FDA to sign off on its use. Realizing how dire the situation was, Hollister says, he did, "likely, if it was not a life-threatening case it might never have gotten into clinical use so quickly."

Garrett is actually the second of  Dr. Green's  patients to get one of Dr. Hollister's 3D splints.  Now he is home, living with his parents, all because of this gigantic, 3D printer in Dr. Hollister's Lab, "he's now on a home ventilator, he looks the most comfortable and happy,

For Dr. Hollister, who makes magic in his lab, the true joy of his creation was found in a hospital room, across campus, where he met baby Garrett, and his parents, and saw for himself what an impact his work could have.

"It's really overwhelming in some sense to think that we are in the lab day to day, Glen really deals with the patients, but for us to realize in the lab that we contributed to save  someone's life.  To us, it's pretty amazing to us how we can help out on this way."

This is just the beginning, researchers are already hard at work, figuring out how to use this technology to create organs, even artificial limbs.
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