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Walter Reed’s 3-D Printing Innovations Help Warfighters Get Back to Life

Aug 29, 2017

This is part of an ongoing series highlighting the innovations and research happening at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.

Wounded warriors who dream of returning to playing hockey, climbing mountains or simply brushing their teeth with ease can look to 3-D printing innovations at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center to help them return to daily living.

The five-person team at the 3-D Medical Applications Center can print just about anything, from prosthetic attachments to surgical simulation models and custom cranial plates. A large part of the 3-D MAC’s mission is to utilize computer-aided design and additive manufacturing to fabricate medical models and custom implants.

Peter Liacouras, Ph.D., demonstrates computer software that allows him to manipulate and cut a custom cranial plate design. This device supplies haptic feedback, allowing him to feel any modifications made to the design. Custom cranial plates and other maxillofacial devices are routinely designed using this and other digital technology.

Peter Liacouras, Ph.D., director of services at the 3-D MAC, says the center’s role has expanded over the past decade to include four main areas:

  • reconstructing patient radiological images to produce medical models and devices;
  • developing new, low cost, high fidelity simulation models for resident training;
  • designing and manufacturing unique limb prosthetic attachments for specialty activities;
  • and an array of research projects.

Liacouras gave Armed with Science a behind the scenes tour of the facility and showed us some projects the center is currently printing.

Potential 3-D MAC patients must have a referral from their provider to get a prosthetic attachment or device printed. The center will fill any order from a DoD or Department of Veterans Affairs provider.

In addition to surgical models and helping wounded warriors get the unique devices they need to return to daily functions, 3-D MAC also prints models for dentists and maxillofacial prosthodontists. Since 2014, the center has teamed with the simulation department and numerous surgeons at WRNMMC to create surgical task trainers and models to better prepare them for the operating room.

Liacouras says the center is looking ahead to developing more devices with new printers, manufacturing techniques and materials such as nylon and silicone, which were previously unavailable as in-house offerings. The center is also looking ahead to designing more prosthetic and surgical devices to reduce any limitations providers may encounter.

This post was originally published on the Department of Defense (DoD) Armed with Science blog.