By Sharon D. Ayala, Regional Health Command-PacificNovember 7, 2016
JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. -- When Col. David McCune joined the Regional Health Command-Pacific's team nearly two years ago as the region's research consultant, he had some pretty specific goals in mind.
"First, I wanted to increase collaborations with civilian private sector innovators to benefit our military's readiness mission," he explained. "I also wanted to increase the academic output of research and provide a mechanism to retain researchers in the region. Lastly, I wanted to increase awareness of our military's capabilities and mission."
McCune, a hematologist/oncologist, is very familiar with military research. Throughout his career he has served as the chief of the Department of Clinical Investigation at Madigan Army Medical Center, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., and as the consultant to the U.S. Army Surgeon General for both clinical investigation and oncology.
When it comes to telling the Army Medicine story, McCune said that research is always a good story to tell.
"Research is one of the most positive stories we can tell about what we do in military medicine," McCune said.
In fact, some of our nation's early pioneers in medicine and research actually wore the uniform. Maj. Jonathan Letterman, known as the 'Father of Battlefield Medicine,' led the creation of a robust and independent Ambulance Corps. And then there was Maj. Walter Reed who, during the Spanish-America War, led the investigation of an epidemic of typhoid fever. He also led a team in 1901 that confirmed the theory that yellow fever is transmitted by a particular mosquito species. Others included Dr. William Beaumont, known as the 'Father of Gastroenterology,' and Brig. Gen. Frank Weed who engineered advances in field sanitation and hygiene.
Today, it is the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command (MRMC) that oversees the vast majority of the Army's research across the nation. MRMC has spearheaded major efforts in ground-breaking research and development of new technologies.
Because of military research, combat survival rates now exceed 90 percent compared to 75 percent during the Vietnam war. Additionally, service members, their families and retirees have access to advanced medical treatments for cancer, traumatic brain injury and a host of infectious diseases.
It's those stories and many others that McCune said need to be shared more often with the American public.
"When I talk to people and tell them our story, they expect us to be competent. They also expect us to be mission-oriented, but they are not necessarily expecting that we are conducting world-class research and curing diseases in novel ways," he said.
Changing that perception, while leveraging the military's research capabilities to maximize a medically ready force, and building collaborative relationships with private sector researchers, have become priorities for McCune.
In fact, the advances the military has made in research over the last two decades have not only revolutionized the way health care is delivered today, but have also significantly enhanced the readiness of our nation's warfighters.
McCune said the potential result of combining the military's expertise and access to its troop population at JBLM, with the abundance of innovations that are springing up in the greater Seattle area, is a coalition of expertise that really doesn't exist anywhere else.
"These are innovators who were not thinking about the Army when they were making their innovation, but they soon learned that there's potential applicability to what we do in the military, and that we have subject matter experts in those fields who can guide and help them to perfect their products," explained McCune.
For example, in the Seattle-Tacoma area, there are several innovations and prototypes that are in the early stages of development. They range from specialized helmets that may better protect against head injuries to portable EKG devices designed for more rugged environments to early stage experiments looking at ways to reduce the mortality associated with severe trauma and sepsis to a point of care/rapid diagnostic tool that doesn't require labs.
"Our ability to bring together not just the top expertise that we possess, but access to the experiences of health care providers that have deployed and understand the Army's wartime mission, as well as the civilian health care mission, is incredibly valuable," he said.
One such collaboration that is already bearing fruit is the region's ongoing exchange of information with the Readiness, Acceleration and Innovation Network, or RAIN. This non-profit research organization is located in Tacoma, Wash., and brings together civilian subject matter experts from the private and academic sectors and military health care providers, with companies and individuals who have innovations that can affect military and workforce readiness.
These collaborations, according to McCune, can also lead to research projects that have a direct impact on the Army's primary missions. But there are other potential benefits to the military.
"The idea of bringing more academic projects into the region could increase the number of publications from our graduate medical education programs at Madigan Army Medical Center and Tripler Army Medical Center in Hawaii, while providing the opportunity to enhance the professional careers of our clinicians who are interested in conducting clinical research," he said.
Additionally, McCune said that when military researchers retire, they typically transition to an academic career at a civilian university, and the Army tends to lose their expertise to that system. He said that these relationships can offer the military the chance to have a combination of university and military partnerships that can span entire careers and really help the Army retain that expertise.
"Research can be a component of force health protection. It can be a component of military medical diplomacy. It can also be a component of retention of the best talent," McCune said.
Today, McCune is closer to accomplishing the goals he established for the region's research program. He remains optimistic about the future of the strategic partnerships he has developed over the last two years, and believes the program will continue to be a beneficial endeavor for years to come.
"What our private sector partners are learning from us is that we can be a world-class partner that can help them more rapidly achieve some of the goals that they have as businesses," McCune said. "What we're learning is that when we find ways to reach out to innovators in the private sector, they want to work with us, and they have innovations that really can have very rapid impacts on what we do."