We’ve all seen pictures of premature babies in neonatal care units: tiny beings, some weighing just a bit over a pound, with plastic tubes snaking through their nose or mouth, or disappearing into veins or other parts of the body. Those tubes, or “catheters,” are how the babies get the necessary oxygen, nutrients, fluid, and medications to stay alive. In the United States alone, nearly 500,000 premature babies are born each year.
The problem is, today’s catheters only come in standard sizes and shapes, which means they cannot accommodate the needs of all premature babies. “With neonatal care, each baby is a different size, each baby has a different set of problems,” says Randall Erb, assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering. “If you can print a catheter whose geometry is specific to the individual patient, you can insert it up to a certain critical spot, you can avoid puncturing veins, and you can expedite delivery of the contents.”Read more