USARIEM takes on the 2023 Military Health System Research Symposium
Surrounded by slender palm trees and encapsulated by the warmth of the sun's rays, thousands of people from Soldiers to researchers gathered in the heart of Kissimmee, Florida, to attend the annual international 2023 Military Health System Research Symposium (MHSRS) in mid-August.
As the Department of Defense's premier scientific conference, the MHSRS connects like-minded individuals aimed towards improving the Service Member to discover and dig into medical and environmental research from all over the world. The four-day event held over 3,000 scientists, international partners and industry-related organizations to exchange modern knowledge to prepare for the Army of 2030. This year, several U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine (USARIEM) researchers, officers and ORISE participants contributed to the nearly 1,400 poster presentations and 460 oral presentations on topic areas from military operational medicine to combat casualty care.
From start to finish, an energetic chatter spread throughout the more than 500,000 square foot convention area. Within the exhibit hall and amidst the rows of poster presentations remained as many as five USARIEM researchers and ORISE participants presenting their most recent work. Dr. Ben Adams, Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) Research Fellow in the Military Performance Division, received an honorable mention for his team's study for the first time at the conference.
"Soldiers are often injured, and we are looking to see if there was a correlation between movement and injuries and intervention methods that might be suitable," Adams said. "The longer in service a Warfighter is, the more pain they will have, and this is just a first step towards a future study."
Similarly, within the same division, Research Epidemiologist, Dr. Vy Nguyen, investigated the effect the COVID-19 pandemic had on Soldiers, particularly when it comes to injuries. While Nguyen showcased pre-pandemic data and her future predictive models, Dr. Tracey Smith, Research Dietitian in the Military Nutrition Division, presented her poster on how the immune system of Soldiers is impacted by the stressors caused by combat training.
"Using participants from West Point, we looked at the influence of combative scores on secretory IgA, which is a biomarker for immune function, and it is the first line of defense for the immune system. We want this to be high so that it provides defense for viruses and bacteria that come in. If it is high, it means we are more protected and can fight them off, but if it is low or depressed, then viruses and bacteria have more of a chance getting in and you have more of a risk of respiratory infection," Smith said. "We found that the West Point combat course did not suppress the immune system enough to be of significance."
As one of the thousands of posters, Jillian Allen, Registered Dietitian with the Military Nutrition Division, received second place for the "Best in Show" poster competition on her study: "Essential Amino Acid-Enriched Diets Alter Perceived Appetite and Fullness without Diminishing Energy Intake During Arctic Military Training."
Following the poster presentations and up two floors, attendees meandered into rooms designated for oral presentations and panel discussions. One might have had the chance to catch a glimpse of Dr. Nisha Charkoudian, Chief of Thermal & Mountain Medicine, who chaired the session entitled "Female Warfighter Health & Performance," and listen to a research presentation from USARIEM ORISE Fellow Dr. Meaghan Beckner on sex differences in metabolic responses to military training.
"With increasing numbers of women participating in military service across a range of roles, it is important to have focused research efforts to optimize female physiological responses and adaptations to training and extreme environments," Charkoudian said.
A couple doors down Nutrition Physiologist with the Military Nutrition Division, Dr. Emily Howard, was seen capturing the attention of hundreds on her Arctic combat ration research performed in Norway.
"The Arctic environment is one that remains of great interest for the Army and continues to be important for us to test different nutrition interventions in cold weather environments for optimizing next generation Arctic combat rations," Howard said. "Minimizing energy deficits is critical and it is possible to optimize macronutrient content of rations without adverse outcomes."
As the humidity in Florida strengthened, the energy and enthusiasm amongst USARIEM personnel remained. Later in the hot week, Leila Walker, Research Physiologist in the Military Performance Division, highlighted the effect on policy her work will lead to down the road.
"We want to make Soldiers healthy instead of focusing on weight and size, especially for women," Walker said. "We have a sharp focus on changing the current policies that will better the Warfighter."
Currently, military researchers, with their insatiable curiosity, are rapidly exploring unknown and complex areas in science that heavily affect the Warfighter. To Capt. Tyrone Ceasar, Research Physiologist with the Thermal & Mountain Medicine Division, it is a field that allows him to find something new every day and can bring novel solutions to the field.
"I like the chance to protect the Warfighter and enhancing them through science," Ceaser said. "All we are trying to do is inform Warfighters of subterranean threats that we have studied."
MHSRS brings together new and veteran scientists and researchers to discuss unique medical needs of the Warfighter. It is also a setting that allows like-minded individuals to learn from each other and broadcast how the military can better prepare for the future. To many researchers and research fellows who fuel the military with new knowledge and potential alternatives to meet the challenges of the future operating environment, it is a beneficial work. It is a work that advances the human brain but that also believes in helping Soldiers be the best version they can be currently and for the future.
USARIEM has people help other people and that is "by one study at a time," Ceaser said.
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 biomedical research.