AUSTIN, TEXAS --The U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command (CCDC) is pulling expertise, facilities and equipment from across its wide range of research and development labs and centers to join the nation’s fight against COVID-19.
CCDC’s scientists and engineers are currently working on several initiatives to help first responders, medical professionals, and citizens working to flatten the curve of infections and shorten the time required to return to normal.
The command is focusing its efforts in several areas such as researching various ways to attack the virus with antibodies and alternative methods of testing, evaluating respirator filtration alternatives, developing software to improve several aspects of the response, and more.
As a major subordinate command of Army Futures Command (AFC), CCDC has a workforce that provides the Army with in-house scientific and technical experts who provide research, development, engineering and analysis at a basic research laboratory and seven centers that work in fields ranging from ground combat systems to aviation, and from armaments to chemical-biological defense.
“Recognizing our mission, and our scientific and engineering resources, AFC leadership asked what, if anything, we could contribute to the prevention, detection, or elimination of the COVID-19 virus,” said CCDC Commanding General Maj. Gen. John A. George. “Our team responded in a big way. Several efforts were already underway and we found more ways we could immediately pitch in.”
AFC Commander Gen. John M. Murray said he had already seen CCDC work across different time horizons, so he knew they could quickly turn their efforts toward finding solutions for the COVID-19 pandemic in the near-term.
“The CCDC workforce is designed to develop capabilities that make Soldiers safer and more effective across the full range of operations on future battlefields,” Murray said. “To do that, they have more than 10,000 scientists and engineers who partner with hundreds of other science and technology organizations to create a global network of innovation. That means the Army often asks them to help tackle some of today’s readiness challenges because technology changes so quickly.”
Support to first responders
CCDC took stock of its personal protection equipment (PPE) and shipped more than 10,000 PPE items to New York City’s Javits Convention Center in Manhattan for use by members of the Army’s 44th Medical Brigade. The redistributed items include N95 respirators, surgical-grade face masks, nitrile gloves, disposable lab coats and Tyvek suits, and safety goggles and glasses.
Engineers from CCDC C5ISR Center are providing software support to the COVID-19 response. The C5ISR Center has provided software support and training to the U.S. Army Medical Materiel Development Activity (USAMMDA) and 1st Medical Brigade to enable power grid planning for field hospitals deployed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. C5ISR is the Army’s lead organization for Auto Distribution Illumination System Electrical (AutoDISE), which is software designed to assess, plan and implement tactical power infrastructure in support of a variety of tactical missions.
AutoDISE helps Army planners, engineers and units to optimize power performance, increase the efficiency of power infrastructure and improve reliability.
C5ISR engineers are also providing the software development support to enable enterprise deployment of the Tactical Assault Kit, or TAK, to the National Guard COVID-19 response. These software developments will securely support a variety of devices and web browsers to streamline and enable crisis response situational awareness and understanding. These developments integrate with tools the National Guard already uses to expedite the development of upgraded capability.
The CCDC Chemical Biological Center is assisting multiple industry, academic and government partners to conduct assessments of innovative and non-traditional filtration media in response to COVID-19 respirator mask shortages.
CBC’s existing respiratory protection laboratory infrastructure enables the rapid assessment of these potential filtration options. Researchers are gauging performance against existing respiratory protection standards, with a focus on N95 requirements. CBC scientists are coordinating with the Defense Treat Reduction Agency, the Joint Program Executive Office for Chemical Biological Defense, and other stakeholders to share feedback on materials that demonstrate promise, providing design expertise for potential transition towards functional mask solutions.
The CCDC Soldier Center is currently building and testing a prototype for a military durable face covering for use by Soldiers in non-medical, public settings during the COVID-19 crisis. The Center is partnering with Program Executive Office Soldier and Assistant Secretary of the Army (Acquisition, Logistics and Technology) and expects a contract to be awarded within days, with delivery expected approximately two weeks following the award.
CCDC Army Research Laboratory along with the U.S. Army Medical Research and Development Command and others have joined forces to develop solutions and countermeasures in the face of the threat.
For instance, staffers at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, are now pivoting to 3-D printing research funded by CCDC Army Research Laboratory to make PPE for medical personnel on the front lines of the virus fight. Specifically, the team at Northwestern is now printing face shields to protect nurses and doctors from the viral droplets that cause COVID-19. The massive eight-foot-tall 3-D printer is currently printing one thousand face shields per day, and will likely begin printing goggles and respirator parts in the coming weeks. The university is working with local hospitals in Chicago and, also, staffers at Massachusetts General Hospital to determine which pieces of equipment healthcare workers can use for their efforts.
COVID-19 Testing Support
One of the shortfalls of COVID-19 test kits in Boston area hospitals has been a shortage of the required nasopharyngeal swabs doctors use to collect samples. Scientists from CCDC Soldier Center worked to rapidly develop an alternative design of nasopharyngeal swabs as part of COVID-19 testing requirements. Working in partnership with Harvard University and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC), Soldier Center rapidly designed, prototyped and evaluated industry-designed swabs with alternative or additive manufacturing materials. Evaluations are ongoing to ensure the safety and ability to rapidly manufacture and distribute these new swabs prior to a request for FDA approval.
“This is a good example of how having partnership in our command DNA helps across the board,” George said. “CCDC has hundreds of cooperative research agreements with academic institutions and industry. At the same time we partner with other federal organizations and militaries around the world. We can reach out to experts who can help us address all aspects of a problem and bring their expertise together to get after solutions.”
Scientists from the CCDC Army Research Laboratory, in collaboration with the University of Texas – Austin, are working to discover neutralizing antibodies to COVID-19 in pursuit of developing a treatment to the novel disease.
The Army/UT-Austin team made significant progress recently and are now awaiting sequencing results to identify the antibody populations. Next, CCDC ARL and UT-Austin will produce and purify antibody candidates prior to sending materials to the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York and the National Institute of Health for testing the neutralization of the virus. The team has also extended its partnership to Houston Methodist Hospital to obtain additional patient samples.
Additionally, ARL researchers have partnered with the University of Washington Institute of Systems Biology and InDi Molecular to research molecular protections against COVID-19. Significant progress has been made and the team is on track to produce candidates for testing in the near future. CCDC ARL is coordinating with Walter Reed Army Institute of Research for pharmokinetic and toxicology testing, and the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases. Once a candidate is chosen the products can be scaled for production on demand.
Minimizing the spread of COVID-19
In support of the U.S. Transportation Command, the CCDC ARL and Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency partnered with Zeteo Tech, Inc. in Sykesville, Maryland to measure the spread of contaminant (using aerosolized, benign simulants) within military aircraft.
“Based on the results, Zeteo Tech, Inc. will identify ways to adjust or otherwise mitigate deficiencies in the air handling system or other structural issues (i.e. improper or failed seals),” said Dr. Stephen Lee, senior scientist at ARL’s Army Research Office, located in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina. “By knowing where and how the virus might spread through military aircraft, we can design systems and procedures to stop the spread of virus to aircrew, Soldiers and medical support staff within the aircraft.”
Tracking COVID-19 related scams online
CCDC ARL’s Army Research Office along with U.S. National Science Foundation, U.S. Office of Naval Research, U.S. Air Force Research Lab and U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency are funding a project to identify and track COVID-19 -related scam websites and social media disinformation.
Websites that spread lies, offer fake cures and sell false treatments undermine the nation’s efforts to combat this disease and present a hazard to consumers’ physical, financial and online safety. The research team has developed a website that can help people identify, understand, and report misinformation, fake websites, and scams regarding COVID-19, which is published at http://cosmos.ualr.edu/covid-19 for the general public to view.
The project is being conducted at the University of Arkansas in partnership with the Arkansas Attorney General. The research is being led by Dr. Nitin Agarwal, fellow of the Arkansas Research Alliance and a Distinguished Professor of Information Science at University of Arkansas at Little Rock.