Producing A Revolution – 3D printing opens new avenues for inventions, innovation

Drs. Scott Hollister and Glenn Green of the University of Michigan are on the forefront of 3D printing, creating innovations such as human airway splints for patients.

Scott Hollister wants to convince his wife that the family needs a 3D printer. His boys in high school could build some small tools and Hollister could print some devices for the home.

He sees himself or one of his sons using the device, which takes a digital file that describes an object in three dimensions. It prints a finished product by laying down layer upon layer of plastic or other material using a head similar to one found on inkjet printers.

Hollister isn’t just a curious dad eager for the next high-tech toy. Along with Dr. Glenn Green at the University of Michigan, Hollister devised and created a human airway splint using a 3D printer.

In fact, the professor of biomedical engineering and mechanical engineering and associate professor of surgery printed about 80 different versions of the splint, which was about the size of a thimble, for use in a child to treat severe tracheobronchomalacia, a rare condition that caused the patient’s airway to collapse routinely.

Hollister had been developing implantable 3D scaffolds that could encourage new bone and tissue growth and then disintegrate into the body. The pair received emergency approval from the Food and Drug Administration to use the experimental splint.

Before the operation, the scientists conducted a CT scan of the patient’s trachea and bronchus and used the images to generate a computer model of his body. Once surgeons implanted the version of the splint that fit best in February 2012, the patient’s lungs began to work on their own.

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