A license agreement has been signed by the University of Michigan and the Belgium-based company Materialise which will ultimately commercialize 3D-printed airway splints developed in 2012 by Scott Hollister, a U-M biomedical engineering professor, and Dr. Glenn Green, an otolaryngologist at C.S. Mott Children's Hospital.

The professor and doctor, together with their team, have used the splints to treat a rare, life-threatening airway disorder called tracheobronchomalacia that affects 1 in 2,200 babies. Tracheobronchomalacia causes the windpipe to periodically collapse, preventing normal breathing.

The 3D-printed technology have already saved four babies' lives.

Remarkably, the bioresorbable splints are designed to grow with babies and eventually dissolve. They have helped keep the four children's airways open. Materialise's sophisticated software called "Mimics" was used to design the customized splints for each child's trachea. And ultimately, this is what makes 3D printing so great—it allows us to customize medical treatments as never before.

"This agreement is a critical step in our goal to make this treatment readily available for other children who suffer from this debilitating condition," said Green, who is also a mechanical engineering professor, in the press release. "We have continued to evolve and automate the design process for the splints, allowing us to achieve in two days what used to take us up to five days to accomplish. I feel incredibly privileged to be building products that surgeons can use to save lives."


The agreement paves the way to take the splint through clinical trials and the U-M team hopes to apply it next year to 30 patients with similar conditions at C.S. Mott Children's Hospital. During the first feasibility clinical trial, splints will be produced at the Department of Biomedical Engineering of U-M. Under the agreement, U-M researchers will still be able to perform research on the splint and continue to improve on it.

"Here at Materialise, we strongly believe in the transformative power of great collaborations, such as the one we have enjoyed these past two years with Dr. Green, Dr. Hollister and all others who have contributed to this life-saving application of 3D printing," said Bryan Crutchfield, managing director for Materialise U.S.A. in Plymouth. "This collaboration is proof that when the right skill sets and technologies are combined, solutions can be found for problems once thought impossible."

Materialise is a provider of additive manufacturing software solutions and sophisticated 3D printing services in various industries such as health care, automotive, aerospace, art and design, and consumer products. Its headquarters is in Leuven, Belgium with branches worldwide. The company's founder and CEO Fried Vancraen said, "It was the possibility to realize 3D-printing-enabled medical applications that, in part, motivated me to start Materialise 25 years ago."

The treatments might not be here quite yet; however, it is just another demonstration of why 3D printing is such an amazing tool.

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