Treatment of severe porcine tracheomalacia with a 3-dimensionally printed, bioresorbable, external airway splint

JAMA Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2014 Jan;140(1):66-71. doi: 10.1001/jamaoto.2013.5644.


Importance: The study demonstrates use of a novel intervention for severe tracheobronchomalacia (TBM).

Objective: To test a novel, 3-dimensionally (3D) printed, bioresorbable airway splint for efficacy in extending survival in a porcine model of severe, life-threatening TBM.

Design and participants: A randomized, prospective animal trial was used to evaluate an external airway splint as treatment of severe, life-threatening TBM in a multi-institutional, multidisciplinary collaboration between a biomedical engineering department and an academic animal surgery center. Six 2-month-old Yorkshire pigs underwent tracheal cartilage division and inner tracheal lumen dissociation and were randomly assigned to splint treatment (n = 3) or control groups (n = 3). Two additional pigs had the splint placed over their normal trachea.

Interventions: A 3D-printed, bioresorbable airway splint was assessed in a porcine animal model of life-threatening TBM. The open-cylindrical, bellow-shaped, porous polycaprolactone splint was placed externally and designed to suspend the underlying collapsed airway. Two additional animals were splinted without model creation.

Main outcomes and measures: The observer-based Westley Clinical Croup Scale was used to assess the clinical condition of animals postoperatively. Animal survival time was noted.

Results: Complete or nearly complete tracheal lumen collapse was observed in each animal, with resolution of symptoms in all of the experimental animals after splint placement. Using our severe TBM animal model, survival was significantly longer in the experimental group receiving the airway splint after model creation than in the control group (P = .0495).

Conclusions and relevance: A multidisciplinary effort producing a computer-aided designed, computer-aided manufactured bioresorbable tracheobronchial splint was tested in a porcine model of severe TBM and was found to extend survival time. Mortality in the splinted group was ascribed to the TBM model based on the lack of respiratory distress in splinted pigs, long-term survival in animals implanted with the splint without TBM, and necropsy findings.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Absorbable Implants
  • Animals
  • Computer-Aided Design
  • Polyesters
  • Prosthesis Design
  • Random Allocation
  • Splints*
  • Swine
  • Tracheomalacia / surgery
  • Tracheomalacia / therapy*


  • Polyesters
  • polycaprolactone