Miller School Enlists Military in More Research Partnerships

With the goal of showcasing its research infrastructure and expanding its long and productive relationship with the U.S. Department of Defense, the Miller School recently hosted campus visits by several top-ranking medical defense officials, including two generals and President Obama’s White House physician, and is planning for return visits early next year.

The campus tours of the Miller School this fall by both the Army’s Surgeon General and its top medical training commander followed a visit this summer by Dean Pascal J. Goldschmidt, M.D., and Omaida Velazquez, M.D., Interim Executive Dean for Research, Research Training and Innovative Medicine, to Major General James K. Gilman, the commander of the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command at Fort Detrick in Maryland.

“The visits are a great opportunity to showcase the Miller School’s research infrastructure and explore areas of mutual interest so we can grow our collaborations and existing grants and contracts funded by the DOD,” said Dean Goldschmidt, who is co-principal investigator on the Genetics, Exercise, and Research, or GEAR, study at the John P. Hussman Institute for Human Genomics, which is of interest to Defense officials.

Added Velazquez, professor of surgery, whose wound healing research also interests the military, “There is a lot of overlap between what we as academic researchers do to improve the health and quality of life in our community and what the military does for its soldiers and veterans, so we have a lot of mutual interests. We have scientists who have dedicated their lives to understanding and treating wounds, trauma injuries, spinal cord injuries, and diseases like cancer and psychiatric disorders, including post-traumatic stress, and suicide prevention. That’s what the military worries about, so we’re good partners.”

At their Fort Detrick meeting, the Dean and Velazquez presented an overview of a wide range of military-applicable biomedical strategies, technologies and programs that Miller School researchers are advancing. Among them are global telemedicine, remote surgery, and simulation training capabilities at the William Lehman Injury Research Center and the Michael S. Gordon Center for Research in Medical Education, and the innovative wound healing and pain, acute injury and chronic disease management and neuronal, spinal cord and tissue regeneration strategies being pursued in labs and institutes across campus, including The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis, the Dr. John T. Macdonald Foundation Biomedical Nanotechnology Institute (BioNIUM), the Diabetes Research Institute and Bascom Palmer Eye Institute.

Home of the Army Trauma Training Center (ATTC) since 2001, the Miller School has roughly $48 million in cumulative DOD research funding. Sylvia Daunert, Ph.D., Pharm. D., professor and Lucille P. Markey Chair of the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and the Miller School’s liaison to the Defense Department, said that “puts us in pretty good standing with the military.”

“We have some very unique relationships with the military and obviously the ATTC is a key component, but can we do better? Of course we can always do better,” said Daunert, who is also associate director of BioNIUM.

“That’s our goal, and it’s going to become more important now that the military is getting out of war and devoting more resources to improving infrastructure, including education and continuous training,” Daunert continued. “They are interested not only in preserving wartime skills, but also tailoring the research that needs to be done to integrate new technologies, and we have the resources, in terms of research and training, and a proven track record to help them.”

Daunert initiated and hosted the latest military meeting on campus, an informal gathering on November 27 with Air Force researchers who are interested in the GEAR program and BioNIUM and the Lehman Center’s work in wireless and/or tiny wearable biosensors that can monitor vital signs, deliver drugs, even detect stressors and disease.

Kicking off the series of whirlwind but in-depth military tours was Major General Philip Volpe, D.O., the commander of the Army Medical Department Center and School, the Army’s center for developing and improving battlefield medical doctrine. After an evening reception at the Life Science & Technology Park on September 26, he spent the following day visiting the Ryder Trauma Center, which houses the ATTC, the Lehman and Gordon centers, the UM Tissue Bank and other key areas at the Life Science Park.

He also heard presentations from a number of investigators, including Velazquez, who shared her research on wound healing; Carl Schulman, M.D., Ph.D., M.S.P.H, associate professor of surgery and Director of the Lehman Center, who provided an overview of the center’s training and informatics programs; Antonio Marttos, M.D., assistant professor of surgery and director of Global eHealth, who demonstrated UHealth’s global telemedicine capabilities; Kenneth Proctor, Ph.D., professor of surgery and anesthesiology, who developed the ATTC’s mass casualty exercise; and Charles Nemeroff, M.D., Ph.D., the Leonard M. Miller Professor and Chairman of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, and Daniella David, M.D., of the Miami VA Hospital, who shared their work on post-traumatic stress disorder.

Also touring many of the same facilities to learn more about the capabilities and potential on campus were Navy Captain Jeffrey Kuhlman, Physician to the U.S. President, who presented Surgical Grand Rounds on October 18, and Army Surgeon General Patricia D. Horoho, the commanding general for the U.S. Army Medical Command. She arrived October 25 specifically to see the ATTC, and left the next day talking about expanding its mission here.

While the direct benefits of such visits are hard to measure, it’s clear that visiting Defense Department officials invariably leave the Miller School impressed – so impressed, Daunert noted, that General Volpe plans to return with three or four more colleagues early next year.

His initial visit also was a harbinger of good news. The day after Volpe arrived, Schulman received notice that he and Evangelos Badiavas, M.D., Ph.D., professor of dermatology, had been awarded a $3 million Defense Department grant to conduct the nation’s first clinical trial on the safety and efficacy of using mesenchymal stem cells to promote healing and reduce scarring in acute burn patients.

If proven successful, stem cell therapies could revolutionize burn care on the battlefield and the home front, reducing the physical and emotional scars that burn patients suffer, as well as the enormous cost of long-term reconstructive surgeries, and physical and psychological therapy – exactly the kind of common interest the Miller School and the Defense Department are exploring.

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