Can a 3D printing network for VA hospitals realize ambitions for customized prosthetics?

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Photo: Stratasys’ 3D technology

Stratasys has established a 3D printing lab network as part of an agreement with Center for Innovation at the Department of Veterans Affairs. The move signals the medtech company’s ambitions to move customized prosthetics into the mainstream of healthcare.

The agreement with the Center for Innovation at the Department of Veterans Affairs will make five hospitals part of the initial network in Puget Sound, San Antonio, Albuquerque, Orlando, and Boston. They’ll be equipped with 3D printers, materials, and training to support development of custom orthotics, prostheses, and anatomical models for personalized healthcare, a company release said. The equipment is fully integrated across hospitals, generating a network for building skills and knowledge-sharing across sites. The goal is to generate better patient outcomes, but also to improve surgical collaboration, and reduce costs.

Dr. Beth Ripley, a radiologist who is leading the VA initiative, said the network marked a milestone in how the VA develops patient treatments.

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“The technology not only enables 3D models of a patient’s unique anatomy for diagnosis and treatment, but can also be used to engineer personalized health solutions for veterans — including prostheses and assistive technologies,” Ripley said.

One reason why this network is so interesting is that it offers a way to improve upon the training required to make 3D printing a more integral part of hospitals. To that end, hospitals in the network will also share best practice guidance with each other. In addition to prosthetics, 3D printing can help hospitals develop organ models to prepare for complex procedures.

Last year, MedCity News noted analysts have predicted that 3D printing will be a major disruptive force in the healthcare industry before the end of the decade. According to a Gartner study published late last year, 10 percent of people in the developed world will be living with 3D-printed items on or in their bodies by 2019, and 3D printing will be a central tool in roughly one-third of surgical procedures involving prosthetic and implanted devices.

IndustryArc, the global market for 3D printing in healthcare, has projected that the market to be worth $1.2 billion by 2020.

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