The 2012 Military Health System Research Symposium welcomed hundreds of participants to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., for its opening day to discuss the latest advancements in healthcare for warfighters Aug. 13. The four-day symposium, sponsored by the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs, and organized by the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command, is a joint effort supported by the U.S. Army, Navy, and Air Force, and brings together scientific leaders and researchers from throughout the world.

"This is the first time that we are combining three previously separate conferences into one joint conference by the Army, Navy, and Air Force," said Col. Dallas Hack, chair of the MHSRS. "We now have a broader range of topics. Before it was primarily trauma care, and now it is this plus infectious disease, operational medicine, medical simulation and training, and force health protection. The interest thus far has been truly amazing."

The vision of the MHSRS is to offer an academic-based forum in which to discuss recent accomplishments and share knowledge regarding military-unique research and development. The annual event provides an opportunity to exchange ideas on planning and developing future studies aimed at optimizing care for members of the Uniformed Services in operational settings, and it has grown rapidly over the past decade.

"This year, we have over 450 presenters, including podium speakers and poster presentations," said Hack, "and we actually had to limit the number of submissions we could accept. We have nearly 1400 people registered, and we probably will see over 1500 when all is said and done. This year's conference is shaping up to be the biggest one yet."

Originally established fifteen years ago as Advanced Technology Applications for Combat Casualty Care, the conference has helped to unify researchers who seek ways to aid the nation's warfighters -- both on and off of the battlefield -- before, during and after deployment. And the research thus far has been very successful.

For example, the general concept of the Armed Forces Institute of Regenerative Medicine grew out of conversations during the 2006 ATACCC meeting, and during the same meeting, the Army and Navy agreed to collaborate on damage control resuscitation, which has greatly speeded up research in this particular area. At the 2001 conference, a discussion between researchers from the University of Florida and Walter Reed Army Institute of Research on the concept of traumatic brain injury, or TBI, biomarkers led to a collaboration to test this hypothesis. This prescient meeting resulted in the first blood test for TBI to enter Phase III clinical trials. In 2008, ATACCC was the site of a joint meeting to discuss Spinal Cord Injury medevac litter efforts, which led to three successful studies regarding the assessment of the effects of vibration, G-force, and shock on casualties during medevac transportation.

"The only reason to have a meeting like this, is to provide 'output' -- to ensure that new things happen in the research field because of all the information shared," said Hack. "Our focus remains the same: to protect, sustain, and treat the warfighter with the most current technology."

Hack said that he has seen an increase in the number of non-DoD personnel attending the conference, such as those from corporations, academia, and clinics, who come to learn more about new advances in the field. Another draw is that Continuing Education Units are offered for many in attendance as well.

"I truly believe the non-DoD personnel are coming to this meeting because they recognize that the DoD is a leader in the field of this type of research," said Hack, "and we've had some major breakthroughs lately."

Because of the increased use of improvised explosive devices during the current conflict overseas, one of the topics gaining much attention recently is TBI, and Hack said this has become a key area of research.

"Over the course of the war, we've had huge progress in the area of massive trauma and massive hemorrhage, and how to treat this," he said. "Now we're starting to see big advances in the area of TBI, and we can look forward to seeing brain injury care translating into larger clinical trials, and into practice within the next year or two. We're looking at the long-term, chronic effects of brain injury, which is very different than past research where we only looked at the short-term effects."

It is important that people understand that the results of this research, originally aimed at the warfighter, eventually makes its way into civilian medical practice, so that millions across the world are able to reap the benefits of these breakthroughs.

And this remains the "silver lining" of the annual MHSRS gathering.

"What continues to amaze me," said Hack, "is the amount of support we get for this conference. So many folks throughout the year write or phone us to say how much they look forward to this meeting, and that it is the best medical meeting of the year."

Obviously, this is a key factor in understanding why the conference has grown over the years, and Hack keeps this at the forefront when planning the event. He said that having the conference in a self-contained facility adds to the impact it has on its attendees. He believes that eating, lodging, and meeting each day in the same location helps to keep people focused on discussing the research presented, which helps to stimulate more ideas and information exchange as the week progresses.

"I'm very excited about what we'll learn this week, and I think everyone will leave with a greater understanding of where we are, and where we can take the field," said Hack.

Page last updated Wed August 8th, 2012 at 00:00