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3D Printing Creates Artificial Lung

VA pursues technology that can help us offer cutting-edge care and treatment to the Veterans we serve. As VA strives to provide world-class care and services, the advancements it has championed — from piloting the first electronic health record to being among the first in the United States to do osteointegration — have helped to change the face of technology and health care around the world.

VA recently accelerated research into the health care possibilities surrounding 3D printing (3DP) technology. The printers use blueprints created with modeling software and melted plastic “ink” to print three-dimensional objects layer by layer. These printers can create objects like made-to-fit prosthetics, artificial organs, customizable splints, orthotics, and even entire artificial limbs. 3D printers have been installed in VA hospitals in Seattle, Albuquerque, San Antonio, Boston, and Orlando.

OIT has worked closely with VHA to integrate this technology into test sites and help hospital staff adjust to using the new capabilities. Though the technology is new and has only been tested in limited capacities in a health care setting, the progress that has been made with it — both within VA and in the private sector — has dramatically impacted the way we approach health care and treatment options.

For example, VA has already made strides in developing a 3D-printed artificial lung, which is being tested at the Ann Arbor health care system in Michigan. The 3D technology allows researchers to print fine blood flow networks that closely mimic those in real human lungs — an advancement they hope will lead to the creation of effective artificial “tissue” that better filters oxygen into blood. VA hospitals have also printed customized tools such as fitted splints for fractures and easier-to-use toggles for motorized wheelchairs, both of which have allowed more varied, personalized treatment options for Veterans.

Dr. Beth Ripley, a radiologist and chair of the VHA 3D Printing Advisory Committee at VA, believes that 3DP will support VA’s vision 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.” Ripley sees 3DP as a tool with great potential to accomplish VA’s primary vision to provide personalized care and best-in-class customer service to Veterans.

It is only through close partnerships throughout VA that initiatives like this can move from theory and concept to reality for the Veterans we serve. Through this collaboration, the effort to pursue 3DP as health care technology may serve as a catalyst to develop new innovations, such as implantable bio-prosthetics, new assistive technology devices, and custom prosthetics or orthotics. VA hopes that 3DP will one day be available at all 168 VA hospitals across the nation to provide Veterans with the world-class benefits and services they have earned.

We invite you to read a recent whitepaper on 3D printing to learn more about this exciting field and how VA is using this innovative technology to care for our nation’s Veterans.

Content last updated or reviewed on January 3, 2019