It’s hard to imagine something so simple could save a child’s life. But that’s exactly what this small device built on 3-D printer did. University of Michigan doctors designed and implanted the tracheal splint inside Kaiba Gionfriddo, now 20 months old.
The tiny collar was made to treat Kaiba’s tracheobronchomalacia, a condition in which the airways collapse when breathing or coughing. It was created directly from a CT scan of the collapsed area using a laser-based 3-D printer. The printer constructed the splint using polycaprolactone, a biodegradable polyester that is slowly absorbed by the body over a few years. It was sewn around the airway to keep it open and give support so more tissue could grow.
The doctors described their groundbreaking treatment in New England Journal of Medicine letter published on May 23.
The world is awash in antibiotics. We take them to fight off the bacteria that mean to colonize us. We feed them to animals to prevent the outbreak of disease in densely packed factory-farming operations. Even many of our cleaning and body care products, controversially, now contain them.
But many antibiotics don’t get fully metabolized within humans or animals and, through excretion, find their way into waste and surface waters. It’s a major environmental concern whose full ecological implications still aren’t clear.
And the problem creates a vicious cycle. Evolution gives our microbial adversaries the strategic advantage—the ability to adapt to our weapons and render them harmless. So we engage in a microscopic arms race, battering increasing numbers of antibiotic-resistant bugs with more and more drug compounds to keep them at bay.
So you could call it a small case of poetic justice when researchers figure out how to use the cellular machinery that renders some bacteria drug-resistant to reclaim antibiotics from contaminated water.
For those unfortunate enough to be trapped in a caved-in mine or under the rubble of a collapsed building, the chance of being rescued largely depends upon trained humans and dogs. The equipment they may be outfitted with—thermal imaging sensors, carbon dioxide detectors and flexible video cameras—may also provide some limited help.
But those buried too deeply for searchers to detect them must put all hope of rescue upon the slim possibility that first responders uncover them by chance. For this reason, researchers are trying to develop search and rescue robots that could vastly improve the odds for victims trapped underground.
“The dream and goal in this field is to turn a robot into a multifunctional device capable of moving everywhere,” says Daniel Goldman, a physicist at the Georgia Institute of Technology. “We’re seeking inspiration for how teams of little robots could self-organize to create structures that allow them to efficiently and effectively move around in nasty environments.”