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Walter Reed, VA focus on joint efforts in 3D medical application

Three physicians wearing masks; one sitting at a desk, two standing Peter Liacouras, Ph.D., director of the 3-D Medical Applications Center at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, explains to physicians from the Washington DC Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Center the capabilities of the 3D MAC at WRNMMC. (Photo by Bernard Little, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.)

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Leadership from the Washington, D.C. Veterans Affairs Medical Center visited Walter Reed National Military Medical Center last month to acknowledge the new Joint Incentive Fund (JIF) award between the two centers.

The JIF award focuses on the Department of Defense/VA 3D Printing Consortium for Medical Applications. The total JIF award was for more than $8.8 million with the WRNMMC/3D MAC portion at over $4.1 million for a project length of two years, according to Dr. Peter Liacouras, director of the services for WRNMMC’s 3D Medical Application Center.

In 2002, the 3D MAC opened at the former Walter Reed Army Medical Center (WRAMC), a predecessor of WRNMMC with the former National Naval Medical Center (NNMC), stated Liacouras, who joined the 3D MAC team in 2006. He added that in the late 1990s, an individual at NNMC was doing some 3D printing as well.

In 2007, the Naval Postgraduate Dental School (NPDS), at the then NNMC, started to invest in 3D printing for dental prosthetics, and then in 2011 with the Base Realignment and Closure law, the 3D MAC was relocated from the closing WRAMC to the new WRNMMC, Liacouras explained.

According to Military Health System (MHS) officials, the JIF was established under Section 721 of the FY 2003 National Defense Authorization Act “to provide seed money and incentives for innovative DoD/VA joint sharing initiatives to recapture purchased care, improve quality and drive cost savings at facilities, regional and national levels. JIF is only designated for use by the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) and Defense Health Agency (DHA) entities for direct medical sharing initiatives or for services or systems that facilitate DOD/VA interoperability.”

“Telehealth and 3D printing in health care settings are the wave of the future,” VA Secretary Robert Wilkie recently stated. In March, VA activated its 3D printing network to test 3D designs of medical equipment used by the nation’s health-care providers to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. This effort included developing 3D masks and other critical personal protective equipment (face shields, masks and ventilators) to bolster the nation’s fight against COVID-19.

Group of men, wearing masks, standing in front of a building
Walter Reed National Military Medical Center Director Army Col. (Dr.) Andrew Barr (fifth from left) and Director of the Washington DC Veterans Affairs Medical Center retired Army Col. Michael Heimall (sixth from left), along with members of their leadership team, met on Oct. 20 at WRNMMC to acknowledge the multi-million dollar Joint Incentive Fund award between the two centers focused on jointly advancing 3D medical technology for Military Health System and VA beneficiaries. (Photo by Bernard Little, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.)

The VA is the first integrated health care system in the country to establish a national 3D Printing Network, allowing its health-care staff to share ideas, resources and best practices to deliver quality care to patients throughout its enterprise, according to VA officials. This collaboration will include the 3D at WRNMMC.

“The VA and DOD share a vision to provide a centralized system of services to service members that will benefit them throughout a lifetime,” Liacouras stated. “This system is created through an interdependent network of partnerships and establishes a national model for excellence, quality, access, satisfaction, and value.”

He explained the vision is supported by three key goals:

  • Delivering comprehensive benefits and services through an integrated client-centric approach that anticipates and addresses client needs.
  • Providing a patient-centered health-care system that delivers excellent quality, access, satisfaction, and value, consistently across the departments.
  • Establishing a national model for the effective and efficient delivery of benefits and services through joint planning and execution.

Liacouras further added that the JIF proposal sought funding to unify field-level DOD and VA hospital 3D printing efforts into a scalable DoD/VA 3D Printing Consortium through joint planning and execution.

At WRNMMC, the five-person 3D MAC team uses digital technology combined with additive manufacturing to provide medical-specific models and devices for MHS beneficiaries. The team produces custom implants, medical simulators, surgical guides, orthotics, prosthetic devices and patient-based anatomical models. They also assists in virtual-treatment planning, image capturing and research projects throughout DOD. The 3D MAC at WRNMMC is the DOD’s largest 3D medical printing center with a team that serves not only WRNMMC beneficiaries, but also other military facilities, federal entities and worldwide allied medical institutions.

This JIF award will allow WRNMMC to update and purchase multiple 3D printers and other digital technology; register with the FDA as a medical manufacturer; and increase training within WRNMMC and DOD.

Liacouras, explained to the capabilities of the center, elaborating on its role in four main areas of 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 producing devices and assisting in numerous research projects.

The 3D MAC team produces more than 1,000 products annually in support of military medicine, according to Liacouras.

Liacouras explained how the 3D MAC’s expertise, combined with collaborations across hospital departments and within DOD provides physicians and other professionals with the opportunity to use the state-of-the-art technology to positively impact the quality of life for military members and their families.

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