14/08/2014 16:50 BST | Updated 22/05/2015 10:12 BST

Medical First As Doctors Save Baby's Life With 3-D Printer Device

Medical first as doctors save baby's life with 3-D printer device

In a medical first, a baby's life has been saved by using a device to help him breathe created by a revolutionary 3D printer.

Doctors created an airway splint to save the life of Kaiba Gionfriddo, who used to stop breathing nearly every day.

Because of a birth defect, the little boy's airway kept collapsing, causing his breathing to stop and often his heart, too.

Doctors in Michigan, US, used computer-guided lasers to 'print out' 100 tiny plastic tubes of various shapes and sizes.

They implanted one of these tubes in Kaiba, the first time this has been done. Suddenly the baby, who doctors thought would probably not survive, could breathe normally.

He was three months old when he was operated on last year and is nearly 19 months old now.

"He's a pretty healthy kid right now," said Dr Glenn Green, a pediatric ear, nose and throat specialist at CS Mott Children's Hospital of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, where the operation took place.

The breakthrough is described in the latest edition of New England Journal of Medicine. Independent experts see the potential for 3-D printing to create more body parts to solve unmet medical needs.

"It's the wave of the future," said Robert Weatherly, a pediatric specialist at the University of Missouri in Kansas City. Kaiba had an incompletely formed bronchus, one of the two airways that branch off the windpipe to the lungs.

About 2000 babies are born with such defects each year in the United States and most outgrow them by age 2 or 3, as more tissue develops. In severe cases, parents learn of the defect when the child suddenly stops breathing and dies.

Kaiba's condition was serious when his doctors heard of the Michigan experiments involving airway splints made from biodegradable polyester.

The splint, which was placed around his defective bronchus, has a slit along its length so it can expand and grow as the child does - something a permanent, artificial implant cannot do.

The plastic is also designed to degrade and gradually be absorbed by the body over three years, as healthy tissue forms to replace it.