Stratasys Ltd. has teamed with five VA hospitals to create the first three-dimensional printing hospital network in the country, company officials announced Thursday.

Under the partnership with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), Stratasys will donate to the hospitals industrial 3-D printers, 3-D printing plastics, other materials and training that will allow doctors to make customized medical devices for veterans. The first VA hospitals to receive the 3-D printers are located in Seattle, San Antonio, Albuquerque, N.M., Orlando and Boston, Stratasys officials said. It is not clear if the program will eventually spread to other cities.

The goal is for VA doctors to use the 3-D printing technology to quickly design and build custom prosthetic and orthotic devices. But it is also meant to help doctors create precise anatomical models of body parts that can be used to teach medical students or to help surgical teams practice complicated surgeries before the first real cut.

Hospitals within the new network will share information and best practices with each other in the hopes of providing better patient care. If successful, the effort will result in improved patient outcomes, enhanced surgical collaboration and streamlined costs, ­officials said.

"3D-printing network is a significant step forward in how we approach patient treatments," said Dr. Beth ­Ripley, the radiologist leading the VA's program. "The technology not only enables 3-D models of a patient's unique anatomy for diagnosis and treatment, but can also be used to engineer personalized health solutions for veterans, including prostheses and assistive technologies."

3-D printers use computerized digital scans and slowly deposited melted plastic to replicate a patient's specific anatomy. The end results are "printed" prostheses that better fit the patient's individual joints, bone structure and other body parts.

The technology has long been adopted at medical and teaching institutions such as the University of Minnesota's Medical School in Minneapolis and Gillette Children's Specialty Healthcare in St. Paul. The VA introduction is part of a Stratasys public service initiative.

"Our work with the VA exemplifies the tremendous difference additive manufacturing is making around the health care industry. The solutions now make it possible to not only improve patient care, but set new standards for highly personalized solutions," said R. Scott Rader, Stratasys' general manager for health care solutions.

Stratasys, which has struggled in recent years, is hoping to grow by deploying more 3-D printing solutions inside health care, auto, aerospace, and industrial customer sites.

The company, with dual headquarters in Eden Prairie and Rehovot, Israel, has 2,700 employees worldwide, 1,200 patents, and $672 million in annual sales. It recently posted a loss for the year of $77 million or $1.48 per share.

The company's stock rose 10 cents a share Friday to close at $20.26.

Dee DePass • 612-673-7725