The Department of Veterans Affairs has gotten its first 3D printing medical device cleared to assist in veterans’ surgeries, officials shared this week.

The product, a combination of “software and physical goods,” will be used to help doctors preparing for reconstructive surgeries of the jaw and face, Dr. Beth Ripley, a leader at VA for the expansion of 3D printing technology, told Military Times.

Known as the OroMaxilloFacial Advanced Surgical Planning System, the device, which was officially cleared for use by the Food and Drug Administration on Aug. 11, will assist surgeons with pre-surgical planning by using virtual and 3D-printed physical models to guide procedure and treatment options for patients.

Although there are similar devices that exist, this is the first instance in which a hospital system has designed, developed and manufactured such a product while simultaneously pursuing and attaining FDA clearance.

“What’s unique and novel about what we’re doing here at the VA is instead of going out to try and find it from a third party, we’re bringing it into the house, into the hospital, right next to the patient and allowing the surgeons that know their patient best to be involved in that,” said Ripley, who also serves as the deputy chief of the VA’s Office of Healthcare Innovation and Learning.

That more personalized approach — a doctor can demonstrate a procedure to a veteran using a 3D-printed part — is just another tool that can provide veterans with the autonomy to advocate for themselves, Ripley added.

While groundbreaking, this development is not the first time the VA or the military community has dabbled with 3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing technology.

Last summer, veterans with visual impairments began to benefit from 3D printing tech that creates tactile maps that assist with navigating surroundings. Also last year, a Marine received 3D-printed teeth as part of a reconstructive jaw surgery, another military first. And earlier this year, the Defense Department began 3D-printing barracks that can act as temporary housing for service members.

“The really cool thing about these printers is that not only can we make these surgical guides ... but we also use the same printer to make prosthetics for veterans, we use the same printer to make nasal swabs [for] COVID-19,” Ripley said. “So, you can make hundreds of different types of devices that will benefit veterans.”

Ripley said she expects the printing technology to be available to veterans this November. She and her team have three additional 3D printing projects in the works that may soon be submitted for FDA clearance, she added, including a device to assist veterans’ cancer treatment.

Jonathan is a staff writer and editor of the Early Bird Brief newsletter for Military Times. Follow him on Twitter @lehrfeld_media

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