HomeNewsArticle Display

3-D printing takes wounded warriors to a new dimension

We really do have the technology: 3-D printing takes wounded warriors to a new dimension

Peter Liacouras, director of the 3-D Medical Applications Center, sits behind his desk at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. Licouras is part of a smaill team of engineers and technicians that use advanced digital technology and additive manufacturing to design and produce personalized devices for amputees. (Courtesy photo)

FALLS CHURCH, Va. (AFNS) -- One wounded warrior wanted to amble around the hotel pool during his honeymoon without strapping on prosthetic legs. Another wanted ice skates to fit snugly onto his prosthetic feet so he’d receive the sensory feedback he’d come to expect when engaging in his favorite pastime. And yet another wanted to hold a fishing rod while enjoying full use of the hook where his hand used to be.

These requests for custom prosthetic attachments were fulfilled by the 3-D Medical Applications Center, or 3DMAC, at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. There, a small staff of engineers and technicians use advanced digital technology and additive manufacturing, also known as 3-D printing, to design and produce personalized devices quickly and cost-efficiently.

“We’ve made more than 100 unique devices to enable activities that able-bodied people often take for granted,” said Peter Liacouras, the center’s director of services who holds a doctorate in biomedical engineering.

The devices make it easier for amputees to engage in leisure activities they enjoy, Liacouras said, as well as routine things such as drinking a glass of wine or brushing teeth. Returning to their everyday lives helps wounded warriors overcome the physical and emotional trauma of limb loss, health care experts say.

Part of Walter Reed Bethesda’s radiology department, 3DMAC is located in a small suite of offices and computer rooms tucked behind double doors at the end of a long hallway. Although it’s an unassuming-looking place, what’s happening inside is state-of-the-art. Among the center’s many projects are surgical models to produce custom implants used in dentistry and oral surgery; skull plates for blast injuries; and other models to help surgeons prepare to perform intricate procedures, and to train the next generation of dental and medical professionals.

“We also have several research projects going on,” Liacouras said. They include 3-D surveying and mapping of the human face to create a digital archive of facial anatomy. This archive could be used to fabricate implants for reconstruction if a service member became disfigured in a blast injury. “The face is the most complicated region to reconstruct and, of course, it’s what everyone sees every day,” Liacouras said.

So 3-D printed cellphone and cup holders that attach to wheelchairs or other assistive devices “may sound like they’re on the lower scale of what we do, in terms of importance,” Liacouras said. “But they’re not, because they mean a lot to wounded warriors.”

The center fabricates by request from the Defense Department and Department of Veterans Affairs health care providers. When a request is received, Liacouras usually searches the web to see if the item already exists and can be purchased and adapted. If not, 3-D printing “enables us to create custom devices, making them patient-specific,” he said. The items are made from plastic or titanium.

The center’s first assistive technology project was “shorty feet” for the honeymoon-bound bilateral amputee, in 2002. “Wearing full prosthetic legs can be cumbersome and also, the full prosthesis for pool wear are very expensive and not necessarily 100 percent waterproof,” Liacouras said.

He and his team used computer-assisted design to plan the shorty feet, then printed a plastic prototype for a fit test. They made the permanent pair in titanium alloy.

“They attach to sockets that attach to the stumps,” Liacouras said. “Think of it like walking on your knees.”

And though Liacouras admits “we didn’t fully understand the need at first,” the center has produced more than 70 pairs to date.

“They’ve really taken off,” he said, noting wounded warriors like to use them instead of full prosthetic legs if they need to get up after going to bed, and also to play with young children at the little ones’ level. Physical therapists use them to help new patients feel more comfortable and confident about getting up and moving again.

“Whatever our wounded warriors need, we’ll create,” Liacouras said.

Engage

Twitter
RT @GenCQBrownJr: Partnerships are fundamental to executing the mission. Working with and learning from our partner nations @NATO -- togeth…
Twitter
RT @AETCommand: The 2021 #ENJJPT Steering Committee is happening at @SheppardAFB this week! Excited to continue our partnership to deliver…
Twitter
RT @GenCQBrownJr: This is Capt Eric Johnson. He was critical to the reception, care, feeding and bed down of more than 30,000 vulnerable Af…
Twitter
.@UnderSecAF Gina Ortiz Jones met with @USAFReserve Airmen to discuss the @DeptofDefense COVID-19 vaccination direc… https://t.co/9y28hmcMir
Twitter
Join Department of the Air Force senior leaders for a live, virtual town hall discussing the Racial Disparity Revie… https://t.co/6Z7N6QIuLP
Twitter
The U.S. Special Operations School, in collaboration with @HQUSAFEAFAF hosted the bi-annual European Partnership Fl… https://t.co/egAlljufL3
Twitter
Join Department of the Air Force senior leaders for a virtual town hall discussing the Racial Disparity Review tomo… https://t.co/s4XfTyCwEY
Twitter
RT @HQUSAFEAFAF: Polish Aviation Integration 🇵🇱 The U.S. and #Poland will conduct Agile Combat Employment training during the bilateral av…
Twitter
.@TeamTyndall's 325th Munitions Squadron has a unique capability - it's the only #AirForce Munitions Squadron certi… https://t.co/RMmTapKK3F
Twitter
RT @DeptofDefense: Today marks the beginning of National #HispanicHeritageMonth! Visit our Spotlight page at https://t.co/Lhe9Hxc454 to lea…
Twitter
Hear why this #Airman chose to get vaccinated. @SecAFOfficial directed the COVID-19 vaccine implementation guideli… https://t.co/TFpjBtHUuq
Twitter
RT @HQUSAFEAFAF: U.S. Air Force and #Slovenian Armed Forces leaders met to discuss bilateral operations and interoperability during a visit…
Twitter
RT @UnderSecAF: Great visit with Airmen of the @459arw to discuss vaccination. The vaccine is the best tool we have to fight #COVID19. Our…
Twitter
Lt. Col. Richard “Dick” Cole, the last of the Doolittle Raiders, was honored and posthumously promoted to the rank… https://t.co/ayQ88HVUQI
Twitter
The 55th Communications Squadron at Offutt AFB, Nebraska, was redesignated as the 55th Cyber Squadron recently. The… https://t.co/8DqPyZc8a6
Twitter
RT @GenCQBrownJr: I’m proud of Airmen like SrA DeQuire accelerating change in our #AirForce. Challenge the status quo and continue to be bo…
Twitter
#AirForce senior leaders will host a town hall to discuss Leadership and the Family during #ASC21. The session will… https://t.co/Fsn63QAWtY
Twitter
Lt. Col. John “Karl” Marks, an @USAFReserve pilot, made history as the only pilot to reach 7,000 hours in the A-10C… https://t.co/qY7eKfs6ks
Twitter
RT @UnderSecAF: Enjoyed meeting with @MDNG Airmen of the 175th Wing. We talked about getting the mission done and getting #vaccinated. We c…
Twitter
RT @GenCQBrownJr: Anytime, Anywhere requires us to be ready at all times. Mandatory vaccination deadlines: Nov 2 – Active Duty personnel…
Facebook
The newest Air Force Podcast recently dropped. Listen to a small snippet of CMSAF Kaleth O. Wright talk with Staff Sgt. New about resiliency. Listen to the entire podcast on Youtube: https://go.usa.gov/xpnAD or Subscribe to The Air Force Podcast on iTunes: https://podcasts.apple.com/podcast/the-air-force-podcast/id1264107694?mt=2
Facebook
Our mantra, "Always ready!" It's the spirit we fly by! #B2Tuesday
Facebook
Need some motivation to get your week started off right? Listen as CMSAF Kaleth O. Wright weighs in...
Facebook
The U.S. Air Force Academy gives its cadets some unique opportunities. Ride along one of this opportunities.
Facebook
A United States Air Force KC-135 Stratotanker refuels an F-22 Raptor over northern Iraq, Nov. 6, 2019. U.S. Central Command operations deter adversaries and demonstrate support for allies and partners in the region. (Video by Staff Sgt. Daniel Snider)
Facebook
Although the Silver Star is the third-highest military medal, it's not given often. Today, TSgt Cody Smith was the 49th Special Tactics Airman to receive this medal since Sept. 11th, 2001. Read more of TSgt Smith's amazing story: https://www.airforcespecialtactics.af.mil/News/Article-Display/Article/2024815/special-tactics-airman-battled-through-injuries-awarded-silver-star/fbclid/IwAR2LZWwx1VHdTnQe39rIEBOuJS_0JvMQBBGt7I-E6zsxxn-Lx9387yu43Bc/ Cannon Air Force Base Air Force Special Operations Command United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) U.S. Department of Defense (DoD)
Facebook
Tune in as our Air Force musicians along with other military musicians are awarded the National Medal of Arts.
Facebook
Like Us
Twitter
1,375,769
Follow Us