It's literally a small problem.

Pediatric care specialists are often faced with a unique set of medical hurdles to surmount; their patients are physically small – but growing fast. Often overlooked by medical device manufacturing companies, the needs of children represent a market not easily served by mass production techniques. Adapting adult medical devices for use to help children presents a unique set of problems.

Now a group of pediatric specialists at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia are hoping they can use 3D printing technology to create customized devices to address the complex needs of their pediatric patients.

Dr. Jorge Galvez, an anesthesiologist at Children's Hospital and an Assistant Professor of Anesthesiology and Critical Care at the Perelman School of Medicine, is at the forefront of considering the issue.

Galvez was the featured speaker at DreamIt Venture's new program in association with Children's Hospital. As part of a collaboration with University of Pennsylvania engineering students Nicholas McGill and Michael Rivera, Galvez connected with them after the pair won a challenge set forth by the Society for Technology in Anesthesia.

This year, the annual contest was focused on ways that 3D printing applications might come into play. The challenge was aimed at applying the technology to refining and developing an adjustable Williams intubating airway, one that could be configured based on measurements taken from a CT or MRI scan.

According to Galvez, the idea is to create a "3D printing think tank" capable of suggesting applications for the technology across the full range of pediatric specialties. To make it happen, Galvez sought out specialists from the fields of cardiology, anesthesiology, ear, nose and throat and interventional radiology.

"There's a lot of low-hanging fruit in this area, such as customized prosthetics," Galvez says. "The challenge is not about using the printer, but having the knowledge and expertise to know what the needs of each specialty are."

Galvez says he's certain that as the 3D printing technology matures and enters the mainstream in medical treatment, customized devices will be developed rapidly, and that will benefit patients.

The Philadelphia chapter of the Pediatric Medical Device Consortium, a recently-formed group aimed at studying the shortage of medical devices designed for children, includes engineers and biomedical researchers from Children's Hospital, the University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University. It's also one of seven groups funded by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.