Researchers from the Uniformed University of the Health Sciences (USU) and the U.S. Military Academy at West Point have successfully used additive manufacturing – commonly known as 3D printing – to fabricate both surgical tissues and medical supplies in a theater of deployment. The achievement means that medical teams in combat zones should be able to perform lifesaving procedures more quickly and efficiently.
The work took place under a pilot program known as Fabrication in Austere Environments, or Fab AE. The research team used a particularly robust and rugged 3D printer to produce a scalpel and hemostat (a tool to stop blood loss) and antibacterial bandages – each within five minutes. They also used living cell tissue to produce specific vertebrae and a meniscus, which could be used in surgical procedures. The work all took place at an unspecified location in which U.S. forces are conducting missions.
“This program has the potential to reduce logistical challenges and costs for transporting medical supplies to austere environments,” said Dr. Vincent Ho, who heads USU involvement in the program. “The ability to build health-related products in near real time when and where needed also enhances operational flexibility for our commanders in the field. This pilot project is … the first step in manufacturing health care products on-site to help identify and treat battlefield injuries and medical conditions.”