National magazine honors creators of life-saving, 3D-printed airway splint

October 11, 2013
Contact: Nicole Casal Moore

ANN ARBOR—The University of Michigan surgeon and engineer who saved a baby’s life with a 3D-printed airway splint have won a Breakthrough Innovator Award from Popular Mechanics magazine, editors announced today.

Scott Hollister, Ph.D., is at left, Glenn Green, M.D., is at right.Scott Hollister, Ph.D., is at left, Glenn Green, M.D., is at right.The award winners are Dr. Glenn Green, associate professor of pediatric otolaryngology, and Scott Hollister, professor of biomedical engineering and mechanical engineering and associate professor of surgery.

Perhaps the biggest winner though is Kaiba Gionfriddo, the 3-year-old from Youngstown, Ohio who received an emergency experimental treatment in 2012 for his severe tracheobronchomalacia, a rare condition that caused his airways to collapse routinely. The case is believed to be the first instance of a 3D-printed device saving a life.

Within the first two months of his life, Kaiba stopped breathing and turned blue twice. His first hospital stay was 10 days. His second was much longer.

Kaiba Gionfriddo is held by his mother April Gionfriddo. Photo taken in summer 2012.Kaiba Gionfriddo is held by his mother April Gionfriddo. Photo taken in summer 2012.“Quite a few doctors said he had a good chance of not leaving the hospital alive,” said April Gionfriddo, Kaiba’s mother. “It was the most devastating thing that a parent could hear.”

Treatments weren’t working, so Green and Hollister obtained emergency clearance from the Food and Drug Administration to implant a custom support to hold open a portion of Kaiba’s windpipe while he, presumably, grows out of his condition over the next few years.

Green, a pediatric ear, nose and throat surgeon, had been focusing on airway collapse treatments for several years. Hollister, a tissue engineering specialist, had been developing implantable 3D-printed scaffolds that could encourage new bone and tissue growth and eventually disintegrate into the body. The two were in the process of testing a splint like the one they used, but they hadn’t yet tested it in people.

A cast made of a baby's trachea and the splint fitted on the bronchus.A cast made of a baby’s trachea and the splint fitted on the bronchus.To make the splint, they conducted a CT scan of Kaiba’s trachea and bronchus – one of the branches of his respiratory tract that connect to his lungs. They used the images to create a computer model of his body and then designed and printed a thimble-sized sleeve that could slip over the affected part of his airway. When they implanted it in February 2012, Kaiba’s lungs started going up and down on their own right on the surgical table.

More than a year after the procedure, with Kaiba having had no recurrences, The New England Journal of Medicine featured the case in May 2013.

Hollister and Green are one of 10 teams that will receive awards at a ceremony in New York City on Oct. 22.

“This is a great honor,” Green said. “This work could only be accomplished with the tremendous support and interactions available at the University of Michigan.”

Hollister echoed Green’s sentiment on collaboration, and added that they and others here are aiming to broaden the use of the technology.

“I believe 3D-printed medical devices will change the face of medicine and dramatically improve patient care,” Hollister said. “The University of Michigan and its partners are working diligently to bring 3D-printed medical devices into clinical use so that we may improve the quality of life for many more patients.”

Stories about all Breakthrough Award winners will be published in the November issue of Popular Mechanics, which hits newsstands Oct. 15.

“Each year’s recipients are awe-inspiring as they shape our future through life-changing ideas and innovative products,” said James B. Meigs, editor-in-chief of Popular Mechanics. “We are excited to recognize this year’s incredible list of visionaries.”


Related Links:

  • Popular Mechanics Breakthrough Awards:
  • Related news story: Baby’s life saved with groundbreaking 3D printed device from University of Michigan that restored his breathing: