DEVCOM SC and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health collaborating to optimize Soldier performance and health

By Jane Benson, DEVCOM Soldier Center Public AffairsJune 12, 2023

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NATICK, Mass. – The U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Soldier Center, or DEVCOM SC, has entered into a Master Cooperative Research and Development Agreement, or Master CRADA, with Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health. DEVCOM SC and Harvard Chan School are working together to develop nutritional interventions to optimize Soldier performance and health. The Master CRADA will enable both organizations to leverage the other’s scientific expertise.

The DEVCOM SC and Harvard Chan School Master CRADA will build upon the Soldier Center’s relationship with Harvard University, including its Master CRADA with Harvard University’s John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, or Harvard SEAS.

“DEVCOM Soldier Center is pleased to expand its existing relationship with Harvard University, through engaging with the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, in a manner that focuses on public health and related applications for the warfighter,” said Sheri Mennillo, the technology transfer manager for DEVCOM SC’s Office of Research and Technology Applications. “Our scientists and engineers look forward to leveraging this agreement, which will allow our organizations to collaborate in an efficient manner towards mutually beneficial research goals.”

In addition to advancing research, the collaboration with Harvard Chan School will foster relationships between Chan School faculty, students, and administration and DEVCOM SC scientists and engineers.

Erin Stomberg, PhD, RD, is the division chief of Combat Feeding in the Soldier Sustainment Directorate at DEVCOM SC. The Combat Feeding Division, or CFD, has longtime expertise in Soldier nutrition and its impact on performance and health.

“One of the areas of expertise of the food product developers within CFD is the development of nutrition intervention products and matching placebos,” said Stomberg. “We regularly do this for our human research partners across the DoD, and we are excited to work with Harvard Chan School to use this expertise more broadly. While the populations we work with are different, we have mutual interest in determining how plant compounds contribute to health and performance.”

Under the Master CRADA’s first statement of work, CFD will be working with Harvard Chan School on carotenoid intervention and the determination of plant compound bioavailability. Carotenoids are yellow, red, and orange pigments that give color to certain plants, algae, and animals, including pumpkins, carrots, tomatoes, lobster and salmon.

The research will aid the development of nutritional interventions for Soldiers, including the development of ration components rich in plant compounds.

“In addition to macronutrients, micronutrients and fiber, plants also contain phytonutrients, some of which have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activity, and may have important effects on warfighter performance due to their ability to modulate immune function,” said Stomberg. “CFD will be producing nutritional interventions that are high in carotenoids from naturally occurring plant sources, and a matching placebo food product — that’s really where the challenge is — to be able to make a placebo that looks and tastes the same as the intervention, but without the active compounds that are the focus of the research study. Harvard Chan School will initially conduct a bioavailability study on these products, and share the results of that work with CFD, which will in turn help us as we seek to develop prototype ration components containing health and performance supporting plant compounds.”

The research project will benefit both organizations and provide insights into supporting health and optimizing human performance. Stomberg explained that CFD is producing interventions containing high carotenoid plants fruits and vegetables in support of a Harvard Chan School study in post-menopausal women at risk of breast cancer.

“Breast cancer is a scourge that affects almost every family in some way,” said Walter Willett, Professor of Epidemiology and Nutrition at Harvard Chan School and principal investigator. “For this reason, we are pleased to partner with colleagues at DEVCOM SC in our research to identify ways to reduce the risk of this disease by changes in our diet. Their extensive experience in formulating alternative diets makes this a wonderful collaboration.”

“This is really a great example of a win-win partnership where academic and government labs are supporting each other to move science forward to support human health and performance,” said Stomberg.


About DEVCOM Soldier Center: The DEVCOM Soldier Center is committed to discovering, developing, and advancing science and technology solutions that ensure America’s warfighters are optimized, protected, and lethal. DEVCOM Soldier Center supports all of the Army's Modernization efforts, with the Soldier Lethality and Synthetic Training Environment Cross Functional Teams being the DEVCOM Soldier Center’s chief areas of focus. The center’s science and engineering expertise are combined with collaborations with industry, DOD, and academia to advance Soldier and squad performance. The center supports the Army as it transforms from being adaptive to driving innovation to support a Multi-Domain Operations Capable Force of 2028 and a MDO Ready Force of 2035. DEVCOM Soldier Center is constantly working to strengthen Soldiers’ performance to increase readiness and support for warfighters who are organized, trained, and equipped for prompt and sustainable ground combat.

STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) outreach and mentoring the next generation of scientists and engineers are also an important part of the mission of DEVCOM Soldier Center. The mentoring of students by Army scientists and engineers benefits the students and their communities. It also increases young people's awareness of potential Army job opportunities and helps provide the Army with potential new talent, helping to fuel innovative ideas that benefit the nation's warfighters and the nation as a whole.

DEVCOM Soldier Center is part of DEVCOM. Through collaboration across the command's core technical competencies, DEVCOM leads in the discovery, development and delivery of the technology-based capabilities required to make Soldiers more lethal to win our nation's wars and come home safely. DEVCOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Futures Command.