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DOD Medical Research Milestones

American military medicine has been the cornerstone of medical accomplishments since the founding of the United States. The efforts and innovations of the military medical research community has advanced the treatments, logistics, procedures, and medications often taken for granted in today’s civilian medical settings. From emergency response to groundbreaking medications to sterile conditions at medical facilities on and off the battlefield, the marvel of modern medicine is rooted in the tireless work of these devoted military scientists, clinicians, leaders, product developers, and so many more.

That same spirit of innovation continues to propel military medical research practitioners toward remarkable discoveries that protect and care for our service members and their families. We remain grateful for the achievements of all generations of inventors and discoverers.

Let's explore some of events and people in American military medicine who have made all the difference in our nation's medical past and present while inspiring future generations to pursue cutting-edge medical advancements.

MHSRS Hero Image

An interactive timeline of the significant events, achievements, and people dedicated to advancing the health and protection of our service members and their families throughout American history.

1776 Medical Department of the Continental Army

Continental Army Medical Department

The Continental Congress established the Medical Department of the Continental Army. This marked the beginning of organized medical support for the American military during the Revolutionary War.

1812 Joseph Lovell

Joseph Lovell

Trained in medicine at Harvard and by his experiences during the War of 1812, Joseph Lovell became the first surgeon general to sit on the reorganized army staff. With a keen intellect, medical acumen, and wartime experiences, Lovell constructed an efficient and effective organizational and administrative framework for the new Medical Department of the U.S. Army.

1862 The Army Medical Museum

Army Medical Museum

On May 21, 1862, the Army Medical Museum, now known as the National Museum of Health and Medicine, was established during the Civil War to collect and study medical specimens, advancing the field of military medical research.

1898 Spanish-American War

Typhoid Fever during Spanish-American War

During the Spanish-American War, the United States lost more soldiers to typhoid fever than to combat. This prompted the Army to redouble research on tropical diseases, a commitment it maintains to this day. As a result, Army researchers developed several effective vaccines and prophylactic drugs to protect American service members abroad. Examples include typhoid immunization, and eventually several treatments for malaria, as well as ongoing research to develop a malaria vaccine.

1900 Walter Reed

Walter Reed1900

U.S. Army Major Walter Reed led a team in Cuba that discovered yellow fever is transmitted by mosquitoes. He also developed ways to prevent the spread of the disease. His research helped improve our understanding of yellow fever, its symptoms, and how to treat it.

1914 World War I

Surgical Room 1914

The First World War led to advancements in fields such as trauma surgery, blood transfusion techniques, and prosthetics. Notable contributions include the establishment of mobile surgical units and the refinement of antiseptic techniques to prevent infection.

1917 Army Medical Research Board

Army Medical Research Board 1917

The Army Medical Research Board was formed to conduct medical research and develop strategies to improve the health and medical care of soldiers during World War I.

1918 Influenza Pandemic

Influenza Patient w Doc and Nurse

The devastating influenza pandemic of 1918, also known as the Spanish Flu, had a profound impact on military medical research. The outbreak resulted in the deaths of millions worldwide, including many soldiers. This event highlighted the need for improved disease prevention, treatment, and understanding of viral pathogens, leading to advancements in virology and epidemiology.

1921 The Walter Reed Army Institute of Research

WRAIR exterior 1921

The Walter Reed Army Institute of Research was established to conduct biomedical research, including studies on infectious diseases, vaccines, and treatments.

1939 World War II Medical Breakthroughs

WWII Soldier tends to wounded

Key breakthroughs include the development of blood plasma and penicillin as life-saving treatments for wounded service members. Additionally, advancements were made in anesthesia, preventive medicine, and the use of antibiotics to combat infections.

1953 Polio Vaccine

Jonas Salk

Dr. Jonas Salk and his team developed the first successful polio vaccine, a critical advancement in military and public health.

1957 Asian Influenza Vaccine

Maurice Hilleman looks in microscope

Maurice Hilleman, a microbiologist at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research and chief of the Department of Respiratory Disease and his team developed the first doses of the Asian Influenza vaccine. An estimated 40 million doses were available for distribution to the public in the United States by the end of the year. Through a massive vaccination campaign, and the fast action of Hilleman and his team, potentially millions of lives were saved in the United States.

1958 The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency

1958 DARPA logo

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency was established to develop and deploy advanced technologies for military purposes, including medical research innovations.

1965 The Wound Data and Munitions Effectiveness Team

Viet Nam soldiers rescuing wounded

The Wound Data and Munitions Effectiveness Team was established during the Vietnam War. The team included medical and weapons experts who collected data on wounds and injuries sustained by service members during the war. The team’s findings were used to improve the design and effectiveness of military weapons and protective gear. The team operated until 1973 and collected data on more than 7000 wounded personnel.

1970 R. Adam Cowley’s “Golden Hour”

R. Adam Cowley headshot

In the 1970s and 1980s, noted surgeon R. Adam Cowley, founder of Baltimore's renowned Shock Trauma Institute, is credited with promoting the concept of the "Golden Hour.” The Golden Hour is generally described as the period after a traumatic injury during which there is the highest likelihood when prompt medical and surgical treatment will prevent death. Cowley is quoted as saying, "There is a golden hour between life and death. If you are critically injured, you have less than 60 minutes to survive. You might not die right then; it may be three days or two weeks later — but something has happened in your body that is irreparable."

1980 The Naval Medical Research Institute

NMRI researcher

The Naval Medical Research Institute was founded to conduct medical research and support the health and readiness of the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps personnel. Today, the institute is known as the Naval Medical Research Command.

1983 The Defense Trauma Registry

Medical employee enters data in registry

The Defense Trauma Registry was designed as a comprehensive database to collect analyze and manage data related to trauma cases among military personnel. Its primary objective was to gather information on traumatic injuries sustained by military services members and to track the outcomes and patterns of such injuries.

1990 Telehealth and Telemedicine

Military telelhealth device

In the 1990s, early work got underway to explore how telehealth and telemedicine could enhance medical operational support, notably with the Army’s first usage of video-enabled care in 1993 in Somalia followed by expansion during the 1994-95 Balkan conflicts. The first U.S.-based military telehealth programs were launched at the same time, using the hub-and-spoke care management model pioneered by Project Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes to bring telehealth support to remote bases and facilities. This enabled Tripler Army Medical Center to provide tele-critical care to U.S. Naval Hospital Guam in 2001. Efforts within the continental U.S. included the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center serving as the hub for tele-consultations across a 21-state region and the Naval Medical Center San Diego providing tele-critical care support to military hospitals and clinics at Camp Pendleton (2014) and Camp Lejeune (2016).

1992 Defense and Veterans Head Injury Program

soldier going into brain scan machine

The Department of Defense and The Department of Veteran’s Affairs successfully collaborated to form the Defense and Veterans Head Injury Program through a $3,233,000 congressional appropriations bill. The program’s intent was to track service members’ head and neck injuries, ensuring they get appropriate treatment, study the outcome of the treatments, and counseling family members regarding the victims’ injuries. Today, the program is knows as the TBI Center of Excellence

1996 Combat Casualty Care Research Program

Soldiers during rescue

The Combat Casualty Care Research Program sought to drive medical innovation through development of knowledge and materiel solutions for the acute and early management of combat-related trauma; including point-of-injury, en route, and facility-based care.

2000 Revolutionizing Prosthetics

Xray of prosthetic arm

In the early 2000s, the American military made incredible strides in the field of prosthetics for wounded soldiers. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) initiated programs like the Revolutionizing Prosthetics program, which aimed to develop advanced prosthetic limbs with increased functionality and natural movement. This research led to the development of groundbreaking technologies like the DEKA Arm System and the Modular Prosthetic Limb.

2001 Quikclot Combat Gauze

soldier uses Quikclot Combat Gauze

Soon after the attacks of Sep. 11, 2001, the Defense Department launched a series of studies to identify how to treat uncontrolled bleeding, which was the leading cause of preventable death on the battlefield. Quikclot Combat Gauze has been used by the U.S. military in operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria. This type of bandage uses a compound found in the exoskeletons of shrimp and lobsters that helps form blood clots.

2006 Joint Trauma System

Military medical surgical room

The Joint Trauma System is dedicated to the reduction of morbidity and mortality, and to improved survivability for all trauma patients in wartime and peacetime. The organization employs an organized approach to provide improved trauma care across the continuum of care to trauma patients – battle injury and non-battle injury. The JTS addresses all the components identified with optimal care of a patient from prevention through acute care, rehabilitation, and return-to-duty.

2015 ER-REBOA Device

ER REBOLA medical device

Air Force Col. (Dr.) Todd Rasmussen and Dr. Jonathan Eliason invent a resuscitative endovascular balloon occlusion of the aorta (REBOA) device that stops blood loss in the pelvic area and abdomen. The ER-REBOA is not only being used by the military, but also in more than 250 hospitals internationally, and has greatly increased patient survival rates. Learn more about REBOA.

2015 First DOD POP Implant Recipients

Hand implant

On December 7, 2015, two amputees who were Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, Bryant Jacobs and Ed Salau, became the first Americans to get a percutaneous osseointegrated prosthesis, or POP implant, through a clinical trial funded through the Department of Veterans Affairs. The POP implants are surgically anchored into the patient's remaining thigh bone to allow connection to the prosthesis.

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Last Updated: August 25, 2023
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