On Veteran’s Day, we honor our country’s servicemen and women and the many sacrifices they and their families have made to ensure the safety of our nation and its citizens.
As the world becomes increasingly complex and political unrest threatens stability in some regions, we are thankful for the support the U.S. government and our Minnesota delegation has historically shown to investing in innovative new technologies in the form of federal funding for research to protect our soldiers and to defend our country here at home and abroad.
However, research initially done in the name of “defense” is now being applied beyond the battlefield in ways that contribute to the well being not only our soldiers but our society at large.
At its peak in 2009, the federal government funded some 31 percent of all research and development in the country, and the Department of Defense contributes more than half of that funding. Often this research spurs companies to explore commercial applications, and as a recent report published by The Science Coalition highlights, out of 100 companies evaluated, 38 received some or all of their funding from DOD.
While our nation struggles with how to balance its budget, we must not lose sight of the fact that research, especially research that started out as a defense project in scope, also promotes critical economic development and ultimately advances innovation that benefits society at large as well.
At the U of M, in the past five years, DOD has funded 300 research projects totaling more than $62 million. (For reference, see “proposals and awards” under research statistics on the OVPR’s website.) Many of these DOD funded projects have had a direct impact on the safety and well being of our nation’s veterans, and yet much of this research has resulted in more far reaching outcomes. Two recent projects in particular highlight the university’s expertise in trauma research and medical simulation, as well as its long history of training and innovation in critical and trauma care.
Increasing survival rates for traumatic injury
Blast injuries have been responsible for the majority of combat deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the likelihood of being exposed to explosives is increasing for military personnel and civilians in war zones and other regions of political conflict.
Since 2008, the DOD has invested $6 million in a series of research projects at the U of M addressing the problem of hemorrhagic shock, a result of acute blood loss, which accounts for half of the 150,000 deaths per year in the U.S. attributed to traumatic injury. It is also the most common cause of potentially salvageable deaths from combat related injuries.
To address the issue, a team of university researchers designed a groundbreaking blood loss therapy based on their studies of the biological process of hibernation in ground squirrels. While the treatment is still in the approval stage, ongoing testing and research has proven its effectiveness and potential for use by combat medics and other first responders. This therapy has the potential to prevent more than 33,000 deaths from acute trauma a year–saving the lives of soldiers, yes, but also those of our neighbors, family members and friends.
3-D medical simulation helps save lives
Another innovative project combines the U of M’s expertise in trauma care with computer-based medical simulation training. In 2011, DOD awarded the university $11 million for a collaborative project to measure the effectiveness of existing combat medic training and come up with new solutions for improvement. This is the military’s largest-ever award for training effectiveness and medical simulation research.
The SimPORTAL (short for Simulation PeriOperative Resource for Training and Learning) is an interactive training center where combat medics, medical students and other trainees participate in situations brought vividly to life by virtual reality, simulation and 3-D. Underlying the SimPORTAL is a human tissue properties database that allows for precise and accurate physical responses to surgical simulations—both on and off the battlefield.
The SimPORTAL has already seen direct commercial application in the development of a surgical simulation product licensed to American Medical Supply to train surgeons on their laser prostate surgical equipment.
In addition, a new cross disciplinary initiative that includes several corporate partners is exploring new uses for the SimPORTAL platform that integrate medical device development with surgical training. This is an exciting new venture that will be launched at the upcoming Life Science Alley conference November 20.
DOD has either funded or developed the majority of medical simulation products currently in use, technology that millions of Americans benefit from daily as they head into operating rooms across the country. Building a premier medical simulation center practically depends on winning work from and partnering with the military.
As Minnesotan’s we should be proud of the work this institution is doing to advance technologies that will help our nation’s veterans but also serve the greater good of our society. It is important that we continue to realize the value of this research to society, as well as to our military and veterans, as future funding and defense needs change.
Originally published on Research @ the U of M.