3D printed masks for premature babies

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bébés prématurés

According to the World Health Organization, 15 million babies are born prematurely each year. A newborn is considered premature when it is born before 37 weeks of pregnancy. This anomaly can cause health complications for the baby, especially in terms of breathing. That’s why medical students at Western University of Health Sciences (WesternU) in Pomona, California decided to use 3D printing to create prototype breathing masks for premature babies. This project was launched after students noticed a lack of respiratory tools in the units dedicated to neonatal care.

CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) therapy with surfactant administration is the current preferred strategy initiated in preterm infants at risk for respiratory distress. Surfactant is a kind of foamy and thick liquid. It plays a vital role in the process of keeping the alveoli open and therefore making it easier for the baby to breathe. However, this technique involves the use of nose-tipped masks, which can lead to trauma in very low birth weight premature infants.

premature babies

Premature baby in an incubator. (Photo credits: Inserm)

3D printed masks suitable for premature babies

Thus, these CPAP masks have been designed to fit snugly around the baby’s nose. They are considered less dangerous for premature newborns with respiratory distress and related illnesses. These tools are usually used for babies who breathe well enough on their own. Nevertheless, the masks provide constant air pressure in the baby’s nose, helping their lungs to stay open and preventing apnea, especially during sleep.

As part of the WesternU student project, they first created 3D models of babies which were then used to design 3D prototype breathing masks. Then these are printed using a flexible UV cured resin, which helps create a strong build, minimizing air leakage. The university, however, did not mention which printer the students used. The project is led by Gary Wisser, an educational 3D visualization specialist at WesternU’s Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETL). The latter also asked the students to digitize the tiny facial features of the infant mannequins, to generate an accurate 3D rendering. For more information, click here.

“It’s always great to be able to prototype with students trying to develop solutions to problems they discover in the real world”said Gary Wisser, “If I can help students turn a problem into a solution at such an early stage in their career, I think they can see obstacles as opportunities. Now scanning, printing and 3D visualizations can be added to the toolkits they will use to serve future patients. »

The use of 3D printing to make breath marks is starting to grow. Indeed, we especially noticed it during the Covid-19 crisis. Devices have been 3D printed to help patients in need of emergency breathing tools. 500 Decathlon brand masks have also been transformed into respirators using 3D printing.

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*Cover photo credits: Western University of Health Sciences

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