USAMMDA STEM Series: "T" is for Technology
This article is part of our continuing series on STEM-related occupations within the U.S. Army Medical Materiel Development Activity, Fort Detrick, Maryland.
The acronym "STEM" is used collectively for the academic disciplines of science, technology, engineering and math, and coursework in this field remains very important to our national defense. As a subordinate command falling under the larger umbrella of Army Medicine, the U.S. Army Medical Materiel Development Activity utilizes this valuable STEM knowledge each day to continue its critical mission of developing and delivering quality medical capabilities to protect, treat and sustain the health of Service Members across the globe.
In our continuing series highlighting the STEM-related work of USAMMDA, we will now consider the second component, Technology, and how this relates to the organization's overarching mission. While there may be various definitions of the term "technology," many might agree the heart of the concept lies in the application of scientific knowledge, often global, to produce machinery, equipment and computer-related items that are used to advance output and efficiency.
In a nutshell, technology helps make our lives easier – and in many cases, safer.
Such is the case for the work being done by the men and women of USAMMDA, who utilize cutting-edge technology to create products that help to ensure the health and safety of our military forces throughout the world.
USAMMDA's Medical Support Systems Project Management Office consists of a multidisciplinary team that includes product managers, logisticians and other staff members seeking critical solutions for the combat Soldier. With focus placed on medical evacuation, combat casualty care support, and operational and preventive medicine solutions, the technological products developed by the team are often revolutionary and remarkable — as well as award-winning.
In 2010, the MSS PMO team won the Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medal in the category of National Security and International Affairs, for its successful work in designing, managing and fielding Casualty Evacuation Conversion kits to be used in Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected vehicles and other military transportation units.
These critical CASEVAC kits allow non-ambulatory vehicles to become MEDEVAC-capable in under one minute, affording the safe and effective medical transport of patients from the battlefield to medical treatment facilities – and these important kits have helped to save numerous lives since becoming operational.
More recently, the MSS PMO helped to create a high-tech device that rapidly detects toxins and other chemicals in drinking water. Known as the Environmental Sentinel Biomonitor, or ESB, this portable system allows Service Members in the field to screen various water sources to check for a wide range of contaminants, which helps to keep our military forces safe, healthy, hydrated and ready at all times.
Other MSS PMO products born from advanced technology include freshwater/wastewater collection systems, which provide potable water and removal of grey water for Combat Support Hospitals; bed nets impregnated with repellants to protect Service Members in the field; the Improved First Aid Kit, equipped with critical products to help prevent death on the battlefield; the Chemical Warfare Agent Patient Protective Wrap, which protects litter patients against chemical agents while they await treatment; and carbon composite retrofit kits to refurbish the rigid-wall shelters used in Army Field Hospitals, providing greater floor stability for operating procedures and increased energy efficiency to prevent thermal shock.
While USAMMDA's MSS PMO utilizes a thorough grasp of current technology to advance critical products to our nation's Warfighters, it certainly is not the only team to do so. The Neurotrauma & Psychological Health PMO is making great strides in using technology to detect traumatic brain injury in Service Members much earlier and closer to the point of injury, in an effort to begin effective treatment sooner.
U.S. Army Lt. Col. Kara Schmid, NPH PMO project manager, provided a detailed overview of this new technology, and it truly is fascinating.
"We have been working with our commercial partner to take a standard benchtop ELISA assay and adapt it to the small cartridge that fits into the i-STAT Point-of-Care analyzer," said Schmid. "The Laboratory Assay for Traumatic Brain Injury program has worked with industry partners to identify proteins in the blood that can indicate if someone has experienced a brain injury, and this has been very successful," she continued. "However, the initial project utilized large devices (about the size of a printer), and required additional equipment such as a plate washer as well as manual labor to perform the assay, which took many hours to produce the results. Of course, this made the process less than ideal for use in a field environment."
In light of this, Schmid said the program was handed off to additional industry partners so they could help to convert the large-assay technology into a much smaller, fieldable device that could provide results in minutes instead of hours.
The outcome was a successful miniaturized assay that could be run without manual labor, inside of a cartridge the size of a postage stamp.
"The small cartridge holds all the fluidics and reagents necessary to run the entire assay without human intervention," said Schmid. "Now, to run the assay, a drop of patient blood is placed onto the cartridge well and inserted into the portable, point-of-care device. The device uses tiny pumps and chambers within the cartridge to move the sample and reagents across the chip in under 15 minutes. These technology advancements provide a portable, fieldable solution that can detect the presence of proteins in blood within minutes to evaluate a traumatic brain injury – which certainly will help us to treat our wounded Warfighters much more quickly."
Clearly, today's technological advancements certainly help to strengthen and support our nation's military, and the men and women of USAMMDA waste little time in taking advantage of these vital innovations. While current technology may afford us many opportunities for improvement in our products and processes, these can only be realized through the efforts of professionals with the proper training and experience to utilize these resources effectively.
The next article within this STEM series will highlight USAMMDA's efforts from an engineering perspective, and we will look at the significant work conducted within the organization's Medical Prototype Development Laboratory located at Fort Detrick, Maryland.
As a subordinate command of the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command, USAMMDA stands as the Department of Defense's advanced development activity for products to protect and preserve Warfighters throughout the world. USAMMDA remains the premier developer of world-class military medical capabilities, and the organization's efforts help to save the lives of Service Members, and civilians, each and every day.