Following a bilateral lung transplant, a patient at Cleveland Clinic’s Respiratory Institute developed an unusual bronchomalacia. He struggled with recurring pneumonia and had trouble clearing secretions.
An airway stent became necessary, but standard devices would not suffice. A stent of the proper length and diameter – designed with a tapered end, to match the patient’s anatomy – did not exist.
The best solution? Build one.
Today, patient-customized medical devices can be more readily accessible thanks to three-dimensional (3-D) printing.
Just as an inkjet printer reproduces a digital image with ink and paper, a 3-D printer reproduces a digital model – often derived from high-resolution CT or MRI scans – with resin, thermoplastics, photopolymers or other materials. By stacking the material layer by layer, 3-D printing builds physical objects, often within hours.
In the case of the respiratory patient, Cleveland Clinic surgeons used 3-D technology not to manufacture the actual stent but to customize a mold. Silicone was injected into the mold, around a mandrel, to create a stent sized and shaped for the patient.
Clinical uses for 3-D printing
The use of 3-D printing at Cleveland Clinic and other medical centers is still in its infancy, but the technology is already revolutionizing medicine. Read more