3D Printing

Advancing 3D Printing to Enhance Veterans Care

For many years, the benefits of 3D printing in medicine were theoretical, and some were considered the potential to be overhyped. As the technology matures, however, innovators, such as Dr. Beth Ripley—a radiologist at the VA Puget Sound Health Care System, Senior Innovation Fellow in VHA Innovation Ecosystem, and the chair of the VHA 3D Printing Advisory Committee—are identifying ways to use 3D printing to solve a wide range of problems, from the inability to visualize an organ before surgery to the need for more orthoses and assistive technology devices that are tailored to an individual patient’s needs.

At the VA Puget Sound Health Care System, 3D prints of model kidneys for patients with renal cancer aid in presurgical planning, allowing surgeons to plan their surgical approach to maximize the preservation of normal kidney tissue and avoid disturbing unaffected vessels that surround a tumor. This can save doctors up to two hours per surgery, reduce the time patients are under anesthesia, and increase operating room availability.

Occupational therapists are also using 3D printers to manufacture specialized hand orthotics to provide same-day fitting and delivery, which offers immediate care and reduces the need for multiple visits. The digital blueprint can then be saved, so a replacement can be printed quickly if the orthotic breaks or is damaged.

VA researchers are working with collaborators to create a bioprinting program that uses 3D printing to fabricate replacement tissues that are customized to an individual patient. This would decrease wait times for tissues and in the more distant future, organs, reducing the need for grafting surgeries and enabling hospital and health care providers to improve the quality and safety of medical procedures. The group is targeting a competitive three-year timeline to have a bioprinted vascular bone implanted into a patient.

The 3D Printing Virtual Center of Excellence is part of VHA Innovation Ecosystem.