ProtoCAM: Additive Manufacturing, 3D Printing and Rapid Prototyping.

Innovative Medical Devices for Veterans via 3D Printing

November 11, 2020

Each year, we celebrate Veterans Day to honor all of those who have served our country, both those still living and those who have passed. On this day, we not only thank veterans for their sacrifices, but also acknowledge the great innovations being made to better serve our veterans. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has adopted 3D printing and additive manufacturing in recent years to take advantage of the revolutionary capabilities inherent in the technology in order to better treat our brave veterans.

The vision of the VA is “to provide veterans the world-class benefits and services they have earned–and to do so by adhering to the highest standards of compassion, commitment, excellence, professionalism, integrity, accountability, and stewardship.”

Veterans often experience severe, debilitating health issues, including spinal cord injuries, paralysis, loss of limbs, and more. 3D printing and additive manufacturing are being utilized by VA hospitals to create protheses and braces to help veterans get back to living their lives. An integral part of this process is getting to know veterans and their lifestyles and preferences, and designing and engineering prosthesis just for them. When off-the-shelf products can’t do the job, 3D printing can help create unique medical equipment for each individual patient.

3D printing can also be an invaluable tool for surgical repair for veteransVA hospitals are utilizing 3D printing technology to create life-size replicas of human anatomy from CT or MRI scans to reduce operating times, lower costs, and potentially help patients heal faster. 3D printing technology enables hospitals to create the complex structures of the human body that would be impossible with any other manufacturing method. Surgeons are able to review the printed structures (as opposed to just images of the part to be operated on) and determine a precise plan before even entering surgery.

Beyond the surgery itself, the 3D printed body parts can also benefit patients’ understanding of the procedure. Showing veterans the 3D models helps them to understand the complexities of their own anatomy, and what will be done to correct any health issues they’re experiencing.

Of course, the ultimate goal is to produce 3D-printed biological tissues that can be placed within a patient. The VA is leading the way in bringing 3D printing into VA hospitals and working with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to help develop guidelines for medical 3D printing. This technology is still being researched, but seems just on the horizon as additive manufacturing technologies continue to evolve.

Most recently, the VA has helped in the fight against COVID-19; in an effort to help meet the growing demand for medical equipment during the pandemic, the VA activated its 3D printing network in late March to test 3D designs of medical equipment used by the nation’s healthcare providers to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. The VA teamed up with the FDA, the National Institute of Health (NIH) and innovators across the globe using 3D printing technology to prototype medical supplies, including customized personal protective equipment (PPE) like face shields, masks, and ventilators. This initiative supports VA’s “Fourth Mission” to provide back-up assistance to the country’s public and health care systems during times of crisis. ProtoCAM has also been assisting in producing medical equipment during the pandemic; learn more here.

Our military veterans are not only worthy of our respect, but also the continuous and fervent development of better medical services to assist them when they retire from military service. We look forward to continuing to innovate here at ProtoCAM, as we work with our local communities to create medical innovations for all medical needs.