Bethesda, MD –
3D printing in health care has taken off, and Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (WRNMMC) has one of the most skilled and capable medical application centers (MAC), producing more than 1,000 products annually for beneficiaries and supporting military medicine.
Peter Liacouras, heads the five-person 3D MAC team, which is part of WRNMMC’s Department of Radiology. Liacouras recently received the 2020 SME Industry Achievement Award, which recognizes individuals and teams for accomplishments impacting the additive manufacturing industry, or any industry through the application of additive manufacturing technologies.
“I always say, ‘I don’t need to look far for motivation.’ I am proud to be serving in a position that supports those who protect our country and contributes to the health care of our service members,” said Liacouras, who holds a master’s degree and doctorate in biomedical engineering from Virginia Commonwealth University. He also noted the impact of his team members, past and present, to the achievements of the 3D MAC.
“It has been my privilege to work with this group of highly-trained individuals who make our success possible. Together, we not only carry out the everyday mission, but also focus on innovation and the future goals of the laboratory,” he added.
“Anyone involved with point-of-care medical 3D printing knows it crosses over between multiple departments, staff, and leadership,” Liacouras continued. “It is the imagination, collaboration and trust between these groups that promotes a common goal to provide optimal health-care outcomes to our patients.”
In 2002, the 3D MAC opened at the former Walter Reed Army Medical Center, a predecessor of WRNMMC with the former National Naval Medical Center. Liacouras joined the team in 2006. He explained that 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 (BRAC) law, the 3D MAC was relocated from WRAMC, which closed, to the new WRNMMC.
At WRNMMC, the five-person 3D MAC team uses digital technology combined with additive manufacturing to provide medical-specific models and devices for numerous Military Health System beneficiaries. The team produces custom implants, medical simulators, surgical guides, orthotics, prosthetic devices and patient-based anatomical models. They also assist in virtual-treatment planning, image capturing and research projects throughout the Department of Defense (DoD). The 3D MAC at WRNMMC is DoD’s largest 3D medical printing center, and the team serves not only WRNMMC beneficiaries, but also other military facilities, federal entities and allied medical institutions worldwide.
Liacouras said the most difficult part of his job is “saying, ‘No.’ Even though my career has revolved around medical 3D printing, it is not always the answer to every medical and research problem. Sometimes, easier and cheaper solutions exist,” he explained.
“What I really love is that we always have new innovative requests from our providers using our technology and expertise to improve the care of our service members,” Liacouras added.
“What motivates many of us in the medical 3D printing community is the feeling that, ‘We are not done.’ Applications expand daily as new technologies and materials allow us to create models and devices previously viewed as impossible. There is so much potential to evolve towards a future where hospital-based 3D printing becomes standard. Over the next decade, we hope to see more progression as data is being compiled to support reimbursements, regulations become more defined, quality management systems are implemented, and 3D files become part of the electronic health record,” he furthered.
Liacouras explained the 3D MAC is also formalizing its relationship with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to allow information, training, designs, and devices to transfer more efficiently from one institution to another.
In October, leadership from the Washington DC VA Medical Center visited WRNMMC to acknowledge the new Joint Incentive Fund (JIF) award between the two centers. The JIF award focuses on the DoD/VA 3D Printing Consortium for Medical Applications. The total JIF award was for more than $8.8 million with the WRNMMC/3D MAC portion over $4.1 million for a project length of two years and calling for joint sharing initiatives to recapture purchased care, improve quality and drive cost savings at facilities, and on regional and national levels.
Liacouras added that during the COVID pandemic, the 3D MAC has also remained opened and ready to serve beneficiaries. “Our institution was very fortunate during the pandemic and we were not called upon for manufacturing much more than prototypes. I did formulate a report for command of where 3D MAC could assist if called on. We did investigate nasal swabs with the Pathology Department, and we were ready to assist if needed. We manufactured Mind Labyrinths for Pastoral Services to assist with relaxation of COVID patients, and we are involved with a custom face mask research project with Anesthesia. We also serve as part of the COVID 19 Pandemic Innovations Team.
“Our future endeavors at the 3D MAC will include several of these as we progress to become a registered medical manufacturer,” Liacouras continued. “We will also be expanding our services to the dentistry and simulation departments, as well as bringing in multiple new pieces of equipment to support our goals.”
Regarding the award he recently received, Liacouras stated, “As I read about the prior awardees for Industry Achievement, I was truly honored to be nominated for this award. The past awardees are nothing short of amazing, from technology and software inventors to leaders of some of the largest additive manufacturing service bureaus. All of these individuals have greatly contributed to the advancement in this field from pure concept to applications in everyday practice.”
Recipients of the award have come from the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine, Mayo Clinic, University of Texas at Austin, University of Louisville, 3D Systems, The Boeing Co., and Medical Modeling Inc.