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Elite Researchers Convene in San Antonio to Advance Military Medicine

Image of Elite Researchers Convene in San Antonio to Advance Military Medicine. Researchers with a shared interest in advancing military medicine and lifesaving battlefield technologies came together at a first-of-its-kind summit held June 24-25 in San Antonio, Texas.

Researchers with a shared interest in advancing military medicine and lifesaving battlefield technologies came together at a first-of-its-kind summit held June 24-25 in San Antonio, Texas.

The AIM (Academic, Industry, Military) Health Research and Development Conference combined three major life science events for the first time: the Military Medical Industry Day, San Antonio Military Health and Universities Research Forum, and BexarBio pitch competition—creating a powerhouse of top minds aimed at collaborating with the military to develop and deliver medical capabilities.

Several Defense Health Agency senior leaders presented at the summit, including U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Tanya Johnson, DHA senior enlisted leader, Dr. Sean Biggerstaff, deputy director for DHA’s Research and Engineering Directorate, and Dr. Philip Smith, operational medicine acquisition portfolio manager.

Johnson’s keynote remarks centered on the culture change in military medicine, with DHA’s focus on delivering care from the patient’s perspective. “Health care is at an inflection point right now,” she said, adding that DHA continues to evolve and is looking at opportunities to improve.

Johnson reflected that DHA has been in transition for the last several years and is now stabilizing the health system after the pandemic, which includes innovation and modernization.

“Modernization of health care delivery is a necessity and accelerating that modernization in San Antonio is what will get us back to taking better care of our patients,” Johnson said. “Our organization is here to improve health, which will build readiness in the system,” she added.

She praised the collaborative efforts of San Antonio-based academia, industry, and military professionals for the health and well-being of the joint warfighter. “Over 75% of [the U.S. military’s] medical force is trained here in San Antonio,” Johnson said. “I am humbled by your partnership.”

Discussing military medical innovation, Biggerstaff shared his insights into the process and funding mechanisms for working with military medicine. He highlighted key updates in DHA’s science and technology management portfolio, noting that there are many current such partnership opportunities.

Biggerstaff underscored the importance of building relationships with engineers, researchers, and scientists in San Antonio, which will help to drive the next evolution of health care.

“You are the leaders that we need. We must partner with industry because we don’t produce medical products on our own,” said Biggerstaff.

He said DHA recently completed nine strategic research plans, which has led to many research project opportunities. “The DHA is putting money against our nine strategic research plans, so you will know what our focus is,” Biggerstaff said. “The bulk of the [Research, Development, Test, & Evaluation] budget goes directly to research and funding projects.”

"We [RDT&E] usually have about $700 million dollars available for science, and Research and Development gets awarded around $1.5 billion dollars for the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program to fund projects in that space."

As a successful partnership example, Biggerstaff showcased a recent medical innovation where DHA funded the basic research, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency did the prototyping, and it is now in final stages of commercialization following Food and Drug Administration approval this year. Called Autologous Regeneration of Tissue, or ART, the skin grafting device collects small columns of live skin then transfers them directly onto the wound. “This skin-copying device looks like a space gun. We found it to work well, and patients end up with functional tissue that grows,” explained Biggerstaff.

In his talk about product development and acquisition, Smith echoed Johnson’s acknowledgement that DHA is on the cusp of major change. "There is a lot of change [in military medicine]. The face of war is changing. Our intention is to evaluate technology to identify what we want to invest in and develop,” he said.

Smith explained that the development of systems—financial, enterprise, operational medicine, for example—are necessary to meet missions and deliver care both at home and on the battlefield.

“We’re looking for those ideas and products that can deliver better care, better health, and better readiness at a better cost,” Smith said. “Part of our investment strategy is to ensure products are military relevant, not necessarily military unique. Commercial viability is a must.”

Hosted by VelocityTX, the summit attracted more than 800 researchers, along with 20 biotechnology start-up companies. The event also included scientific poster sessions with poster awards and closing remarks presented by San Antonio mayor, Ron Nirenberg.

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Last Updated: July 09, 2024
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