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Military Health System Recognizes Innovators Committed to Warfighter Care

Image of Awards were presented to researchers with the Military Health System to individuals and teams during the 2023 Military Health System Research Symposium in Kissimmee, Florida, on Aug. 14. (Photo credit: Robert Hammer, MHS Communications). Awards were presented to researchers with the Military Health System to individuals and teams during the 2023 Military Health System Research Symposium in Kissimmee, Florida, on Aug. 14. (Photo credit: Robert Hammer, MHS Communications)

The 2023 Military Health System Research Symposium recognized innovative researchers focused on enhancing warfighter health.

Dr. Lester Martinez-López, the Department of Defense’s assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, presented the awards to the winning individuals and teams. Their research spans diverse topics, such as combat casualty care, wearable monitoring devices, traumatic eye injury treatment, and lifesaving medications.

Individual Distinguished Service Award Winners

Two researchers in the military medical community were recognized for distinguished service over a lifetime of innovative work.

Dr. Thomas Davis of the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Maryland, was honored for researching how the human body responds to severe combat-related injuries, and how to help the body’s immune system favorably respond to organ transplants. His work led to major breakthroughs in combat-related wound healing, and a greater understanding of a condition known as heterotopic ossification, the formation of painful bony regrowth following a traumatic event. He has culminated his career with more than five years as the vice chair for research and the scientific director of the cell biology and regenerative medicine lab at USU, totaling more than 30 years of government service. His academic career and mentorship paved the way for the next generation of military medical investigators. Watch the Video

Richard D. Branson, a professor emeritus at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, Department of Surgery, Division of Trauma and Critical Care, was recognized for his role in establishing the Center for Sustainment and Trauma Readiness Skills platform, known as CSTARS, and installing the advanced Critical Care Air Transport Team training platform at the university. Utilizing his skills in medical and respiratory care and capitalizing on his medical research, he helped develop clinical protocols and training for the course. The training and maturation of this platform and course are credited with a 99% survival rate by CSTARS teams while deployed. The program trains approximately 300 students annually. His research efforts have been directed at improving mechanical ventilation, care of the patient with acute respiratory distress syndrome, trauma resuscitation, and critical care throughout the continuum of care. His most recent initiatives focus on finding solutions for caregivers in resource-constrained environments, such as during aeromedical evacuation events. This includes trials on closed-loop control of ventilation and oxygenation and improving trauma resuscitation utilizing proper composition and volume of blood products. The novel knowledge he generated has translated directly into how patients are stabilized during en route care and at military and civilian hospitals and clinics. The son of a U.S. Marine, he dedicated his career to improving care for military service members. Watch the Video

Team Awards in Outstanding Research

Four teams were awarded for their work focused on the challenges warfighters face both on and off the battlefield. Their research continues to promote progress in the military medical community.

Dr. Rachel Markwald and the team at the Naval Health Research Center in San Diego, California, to include collaborations with Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Commander, Naval Surface Forces, and Naval Information Warfare Center, were recognized for their work establishing the Command Readiness, Endurance, and Watchstanding program. The CREW program uses wearable monitoring devices to provide key health and readiness indicators to commanders to help evaluate sailor fatigue, reducing operational risk, and enhancing combat readiness. The team established that wearables and the associated data capture processes are operationally feasible, can provide valuable feedback to the individual, and inform group-level decision-making thus enabling novel insights for Force readiness. Further, CREW has provided empirical insights to U.S. Navy leadership on the status of sleep as a key component of combat readiness. Watch the Video

The Strategy to Avoid Excessive Oxygen research team from the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus and the Center for Combat Medicine and Battlefield Research, led by Dr. Adit Ginde and his team, are awarded for their examination of supplemental oxygen and the benefits of targeted normoxemia, or managing blood oxygen levels in a specific range, in critically injured and ill patients. The team’s efforts led to the determination that targeted normoxemia is safe, maintains and may improve clinical outcomes, and reduces the need for high concentrated oxygen. The team works closely with the military services and the Defense Health Agency to update training programs and clinical practice guidelines and is providing data to inform future requirements for next generation oxygen-generator acquisitions. The body of evidence developed by the SAVE-O2 research team at CU and with the CU Center for COMBAT Research presents a phenomenal example of research leading to change in clinical practice guidelines and training curricula, and how research drives requirements for material-solution acquisitions. DOD’s continued funding of the SAVE-O2 research team provides clear evidence of their outstanding contributions to military medical research. Watch the Video

Dr. Rudy P. Rull and the Millennium Cohort Program team were recognized as the premier longitudinal research program of warfighter, veteran, and military family health and wellbeing. Sponsored by both the DOD and the Department of Veterans Affairs, the program is an active collaborative effort between researchers from the Naval Health Research Center, the Veterans Health Administration, and multiple military, academic, and nongovernmental research organizations. Now in its third decade, the Millennium Cohort Program has enrolled and collected longitudinal survey data from 260,000 service members, 28,000 military spouses, and 4,000 military-connected adolescents to date and generated over 180 peer-reviewed publications. This highly informative portfolio of research is called on to support high-level engagements, including data analyses supporting the PACT Act and the White House’s Joining Forces initiative, and produced recent high-profile publications on a variety of important topics including cancer mortality, health effects of blast exposure, health disparities among LGB service members, and family factors influencing military separation. Watch the Video

Dr. Kendra Lawrence, Dr. Lindsey Garver, and Ms. Andrea Renner of the U.S. Army Medical Materiel Development Activity, with commercial partner Ophirex, Inc., were honored for the Broad-Spectrum Snakebite Antidote program. They accelerated the technical and programmatic maturity of the critical life-saving drug, varespladib, including two pivotal clinical trials in four years. Their efforts will provide an important capability for warfighters deployed in far-forward, austere conditions where snakebites are a significant threat to life and limb. This team’s drug development effort, funded by the DHA, is the direct result of a collaboration between the integrated product team and their small-business partner to identify and mitigate risks early in development and to identify and implement regulatory, financial, contracting, and acquisition planning mechanisms to realize benefits for the program. Watch the Video

Individual Award for Outstanding Research

Dr. Steven E. Wilson of the Cole Eye Institute, Cleveland Clinic, in Cleveland, Ohio was honored for his work envisioning and providing evidence on topical losartan, a medication used to prevent and treat vision-compromising corneal and conjunctival fibrosis (scarring of the clear front part of the eye) after trauma, chemical burns, infections, and numerous other disorders of the cornea and conjunctiva in the eye. This research is revolutionizing treatment of these injuries throughout the world and will be used to treat those types of injuries in American service members, as well as in their families, in addition to all patients afflicted with these numerous corneal and conjunctival scarring conditions. Watch the Video

Several other awards will be presented during the week-long symposium. A Young Investigator Competition will be held during the conference to honor three top investigators during an awards program. More than 1,300 scientific posters will be presented during MHSRS, and top poster presenters will be recognized by their peers.

For more about MHSRS, the research being presented, and additional areas of interest, visit the MHSRS webpage.

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