PIKES PEAK, Colo. — The U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine, or USARIEM, held a ribbon cutting ceremony for its High Altitude Research Laboratory at Pikes Peak, Colorado, on June 28.
“Today’s ribbon cutting is a highly anticipated event for the researchers and scientists at USARIEM as well as USAMRDC,” said Brig. Gen. Anthony McQueen, commanding general for the U.S. Army Medical Research and Development Command and Fort Detrick. “This new facility is a game changer for environmental military medicine as it allows us to provide more solutions for the Warfighter serving at high altitudes.”
The High Altitude Research Laboratory, or HARL, is a state-of-the-art facility built at Pikes Peak summit, 14,115 feet above sea level. This building replaces USARIEM’s 50-year-old facility, the Maher Memorial Altitude Laboratory. This summer, USARIEM will use the HARL to evaluate a new countermeasure to decrease the negative impact of high altitude on Warfighter health and performance.
The USARIEM HARL is one of the few facilities in the world where researchers can safely house and study volunteers at high altitudes for longer periods — from days to weeks. The HARL offers safer research conditions, more space for both data collection and lodging of volunteers and staff, will reduce logistical burden and will increase output.
With its open floor plan, the HARL provides 1,215 square feet of research laboratory space, 300 more square feet than the former building. The design and construction of the building allow it to maintain a minimum inside temperature of 55 degrees Fahrenheit regardless of the outside environmental conditions.
In this new facility, research equipment can remain year-round. In the past, researchers kept minimal research equipment onsite due to extremely low temperatures in the winter. Equipment had to be transported back-and-forth from USARIEM in Natick, Massachusetts, for planned studies. The ability to keep the equipment onsite, year-round, reduces the logistical burden of performing high altitude medical research offsite, which ultimately increases productivity.
“The research that will be performed here directly supports the Army's ongoing initiatives to maximize human potential by increasing our Warfighter’s ability to serve in every possible environmental condition — from extreme temperatures to high altitude,” said McQueen.
USARIEM has a long history with high altitude research, beginning in the 1960s. Throughout the years, this research has benefited the military and nation. As a result, medical breakthroughs have led to a better understanding and optimization of Soldiers' nutrition and hydration needs at high altitude. It has provided improved guidance to optimally help Soldiers acclimatize to a high-altitude environment. The research has also validated the effective use of acetazolamide for altitude sickness while showing the drug does not negatively impact physical performance.
“The USARIEM altitude research team has made major advances over the years, which have directly and substantially improved the quality of life of the Warfighter and their ability to successfully complete the mission,” said Dr. Nisha Charkoudian, chief of USARIEM’s Thermal and Mountain Medicine Division.
An example of this success is the Altitude Readiness Management System, or ARMS. USARIEM researchers used 25 years of altitude data to develop the Army’s first altitude mission planning tool. ARMS is an app that helps military leaders improve troops’ training strategies for acclimatizing to higher elevations. Warfighters can download the ARMS app onto a smartphone through the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command App Gateway.
With the ribbon cut and the HARL now open, the future outcomes and breakthrough from high altitude research look better than ever. The USARIEM research team has several studies in the queue and is excited to get started.
“I may be biased, but I think I can objectively say that we have an amazing team of brilliant and motivated scientists at USARIEM. In my entire research career, I have never seen a group of people as excited about working together to achieve our research mission, as I have over the past few years in our building,” said Charkoudian. “The altitude research group is a perfect example of this dynamic and productive environment.”
Using the HARL, USARIEM’s research will develop methods to mitigate performance decrements, counteract acute mountain sickness symptoms accelerate, and sustain acclimation during multi-domain operations. These findings will modernize training strategies and medical guidance found in the Technical Bulletin Medical 505, The U.S. Army’s official medical guidance for high-altitude training and operations.
A ribbon cutting is more than opening the facility — it is also to celebrate the people who made it happen.
“The completion of this project was executed under the design-build process. For such a project to be successful there must be a proactive and strong partnering relationship between the builder, the architect, the prime construction contractor and the many subcontractors, the owner representatives and of course the members USARIEM,” said Col. Troy Morton, USARIEM commander.
“Maintaining this collaborative relationship is a challenge, but far more difficult at 14 thousand feet. Not to mention the hazardous weather and limited access. But this team, through this process, completed this laboratory and it [the laboratory] is remarkable.”
Dr. Stephen Muza, retired and former chief of USARIEM’s Thermal and Mountain Medicine Division, was the driving force behind the update and modernization of the research facility on Pikes Peak.
On June 4, 2018, USARIEM partnered with the City of Colorado Springs, the U.S. Forest Service and Colorado Springs Utilities to break ground on a massive construction effort to build an ecologically sensitive Pikes Peak Summit Complex. This new site consolidated USARIEM’s HARL, a facility support building, and the Colorado Springs Utilities Communications Facility.
Dr. Roy Salgado, head of the USARIEM Altitude Research Group, spent the last few years coordinating with the many groups to bring the HARL to completion — the Health Facility Planning Agency, the Corps of Engineers, GE Johnson Construction, and the Pikes Peak Mountain Management Team.
For over 50 years, The Pikes Peak lab stood as a symbol of USARIEM’s proud legacy of altitude research. USARIEM will continue to lead Army altitude medicine in the future through research in the HARL. USARIEM’s high altitude research benefits not just Soldiers, but also professional and recreational athletes, rescue workers and hikers, through improved health and quality of life.
USARIEM is a subordinate command of the U.S. Army Medical Research and Development Command under the Army Futures Command. USARIEM is internationally recognized as the DOD's premier laboratory for Warfighter health and performance research and focuses on environmental medicine, physiology, physical and cognitive performance, and nutrition research. Located at the Natick Soldier Systems Center in Natick, Massachusetts, USARIEM's mission is to optimize Warfighter health and performance through medical research.