Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Military/veterans healthcare experts front and center at Georgia Tech

I did not want to write this story, because I feel ill-equipped to write about war and its effects, even in the cold abstract. I've never covered a war as a correspondent, never been to war, haven't lost a family member or close friend in a war. But when I read casualty numbers and statistics it sometimes makes my stomach turn, because those figures represent flesh and blood and souls, people. I am ill equipped. But I do appreciate the people who take on the terrible burden of fighting a war, and I appreciate the work of the people putting this symposium together -- people I get to work with -- brilliant scientists whose research is improving the lives of service members and veterans who have been injured. So, here's the little story.

Some things about combat don’t change. Soldiers put themselves in harm’s way for love of country. It’s part of the job description. On the other hand, some things do change, in substantial ways. For one thing, soldiers are surviving combat injuries in greater numbers than ever before.

According to the Philanthropy Roundtable publication, Serving Those Who Served, the U.S. Armed Forces’ wounded-to-fatality ratio has gone from 2:1 in World War II and 3:1 in the Vietnam War to 8:1 in the Iraq/Afghanistan war. The odds for a soldier’s survival have improved thanks largely to advances in emergency and in-theater medicine.

The inevitable result is that a large number of service members and veterans are living with debilitating injuries and disabilities. It’s a reality that emphasizes the importance of the research in regenerative medicine being done at the Georgia Institute of Technology, and makes this week’s Military and Veterans Healthcare Technologies Symposium particularly timely.

The symposium, sponsored by two Petit Institute research centers, the Center for Advanced Bioengineering for Soldier Survivability and the Regenerative Engineering and Medicine Center (REM), will provide an opportunity for investigators to see what their colleagues are doing in this broad area of military medicine. The plan is to bring together experts from Georgia Tech, Emory, and the University of Georgia, this Thursday, January 30th (8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.) in the Suddath Room (1128) at the Parker H. Petit Institute for Bioengineering and Bioscience.

Research in technologies from combat casualty care to veteran rehabilitation will be highlighted. So the focus will be on the kind of regenerative medicine that can restore functionality to injured limbs and tissues, and improve a soldier’s quality of life following a neuro and/or neuromuscular injury on the battlefield. Tech’s research strengths in this area lie in the treatment of osteoarthritis, musculoskeletal injuries, fibrosis or scarring, and traumatic brain injury (TBI) and motor control.

Closer to the battlefield are advances in hemotosis and bleeding detection, and infection and inflammation control, where Tech’s strengths lie in technologies that induce or enhance clot and scar formation, imaging, immunomodulation, and the treatment of wounds and infections, broadly speaking.

Bringing all of this research to light is an eclectic gathering of engineers and scientists, experts in their fields, including the symposium faculty advisor, Thomas Barker, and REM co-director, Johnna Temenoff, both from Georgia Tech. Also speaking with be: Andrés J. García, Robert Guldberg, Robert Kistenberg, Will LaPlaca, Krishnendu Roy and Lena Ting from Georgia Tech; Wilbur Lam, from Emory and Georgia Tech; Robert Taylor, from Emory; Nick Willett, from Emory and the Atlanta Veterans Administration; Steve Stice, from the University of Georgia; and Brian Pfister, who is with the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command.

 “We hope to get a feel for current Department of Defense priorities, initiatives and interests as well,” says symposium program manager Martha Willis, who also sees the event as an opportunity to build community, explore new research synergies, and begin developing multi-investigator grant applications.

“In addition to the presentations on the agenda, there is time for networking and discussions,” she says. “The hope is that new research collaborations will result, old ones will be reinforced, and investigators will have a chance to discuss future opportunities for funding their work.”

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