ECBC 'sci-fi' technologies counter emerging threats
March 21, 2012
ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. -- To help counter chemical and biological threats, U.S. Army scientists are exploring artificial human organs and smartphones that can detect hazardous agents.
Research biologist Calvin Chue recently joined Edgewood Chemical Biological Center and is bringing advancements to research and development projects.
USING ARTIFICIAL ORGANS TO TEST TOXICANTS
Chue is working with ECBC chief scientist Harry Salem to take cell biology in a new direction. ECBC is partnering with Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine, Harvard University, Morgan State University and Johns Hopkins University to propose the development of 3-D printed artificial human organ analogues.
"The main reason I joined ECBC was because there is such a diversity of skills and capabilities available in one place," Chue said. "Having everything available in one location ensures the integration of a seamless, end-to-end research and development process for any kind of chemical biological detector.
"Here at ECBC, we to conduct research and turn our results into a practical, life-saving tool for the brave men and women that serve our country. There is no other place where this can be done."
The group plans to replicate the human immunological condition to test how four miniature organs respond to biological and chemical agents -- individually or in combination.
Chue said this will help scientists understand the effects of chemical-agent exposure on a heart, as well as the chemical signals a viral infection sends downstream to other organs that affect the overall system.
The project is still in the proposal phase, but it represents how ECBC is pursuing research that fuses engineering and biology.
DETECTING WITH A SMARTPHONE
Chue has also been involved in the development of smartphone-based technologies to detect chem-bio threats, an effort funded by the Defense Threat and Reduction Agency and led by Tricia Buckley at ECBC.
ECBC's BioSciences Division is conducting basic and applied research for smartphone modules that would allow service members to perform chem-bio testing and on-site diagnostics in the field.
The Advanced Design and Manufacturing Team is designing the user interface for the computational platform. When Soldiers confront an unknown or suspicious sample, the smartphone could help identify threats. In addition to immediate answers, the smartphone can send results to a command post or a laboratory for further analysis.
Chue's vision is to leverage this research to design smartphones to conduct genome sequencing to support public health and environmental biosurveillance missions.
"Our goal is to provide our men and women in uniform [with] the best tools possible, and using a centralized portable platform for chem-bio detection brings us one step closer to achieving that goal," he said.
Specializing in microbial characterization and detection, Chue joined the BioSciences Division with 16 years of experience as a laboratory technician, principal investigator and science adviser to leadership.
He reiterates the benefit of taking a holistic R&D approach in one place, as there is no value in a device if it cannot be fielded in a safe way. He uses robots as an example.
"They have to be designed to endure battlefield conditions and survive decontamination cycles," he said. "We can do the basic and applied research as well as the designing, building and testing. But we can also help with the packaging and transportation. We can basically do the whole nine yards."
EDUCATE TO INNOVATE
Another strategic approach Chue strongly believes in -- to maintain America's global competitiveness and national security -- is effective outreach that excites future generations about science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines and career paths.
Chue has started to infuse his talent into ECBC's educational outreach efforts to support Joppatowne High School's Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness Program. He believes it is important that we rekindle the spirit of creative and critical thinking in America's educational system.
"As scientists we bring those skills to the table, and it is our responsibility to help ensure we grow our ranks of future scientists and engineers to remain technologically superior as a nation," he said.