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Naval Medical Research Unit-San Antonio contributing to COVID-19 fight

By Randy Martin | Naval Medical Research Unit San Antonio Public Affairs | June 18, 2020

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas —

In early March, Naval Medical Research Unit-San Antonio, or NAMRU-SA, joined the fight against COVID-19 and future pandemic viruses by contributing knowledge from relevant studies and providing backup medical support at Brooke Army Medical Center at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston.

“From the onset of this disease we took steps to protect our shipmates, we looked for ways to help the local community and much more,” said Capt. Andrew Vaughn NAMRU-SA commanding officer, who is also a Navy doctor and public health expert.

The “shipmates” Vaughn is referring to includes more than 120 military and civilian scientists, doctors, and support staff that work in two separate laboratories near BAMC.

NAMRU-SA’s physicians and scientists searched through their research portfolios for relevant studies to fight COVID-19.

The lab’s chief science director, Sylvain Cardin, Ph.D., read about a doctor in New York City who reported COVID-19 patients beginning to compensate for low oxygen. This information helped Dr. Cardin to understand what is triggering the compensation.

“One indicator that a patient’s condition is deteriorating is when oxygen delivery to tissue decreases,” Cardin said.

To save lives and improve the quality of life for survivors of traumatic injuries, Army, Navy and Air Force scientists at the Battlefield Health and Trauma, or BHT, building on the BAMC campus are studying how the human body distributes oxygen in trauma cases.

Cardin is proposing to leverage emerging technology through joint studies at the BHT to detect compensation in some COVID-19 patients earlier in the onset of that disease.

“The lead physiologist at the U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research, Dr. Victor Convertino, at the BHT is working on new artificial intelligence technology that is capable of learning the clinical status of individual patients who are experiencing low oxygen delivery and give an early warning of the presence of the condition,” Cardin said. “My peers and I will continue to pursue research initiatives like these,” he added.

Inside the lab isn’t the only place where NAMRU-SA’s team is helping fight COVID-19. Medical doctors have headed to the bedside to work with fellow clinicians treating patients at BAMC.

“As a team, we have many important players that have interwoven themselves into various aspects of the response to this pandemic,” said Lt. Cmdr. Drew Havard, a Navy dentist and NAMRU-SA’s deputy director of craniofacial health and restorative medicine.

According to Havard, two Navy dentists are tasked with training clinicians who might need to provide anesthesia if the need arises and two surgeons who are treating patients.

“I’m just trying to care for patients like always, maintain a high level of care, and offload the additional burden that’s on the entire hospital group,” said Cmdr. Jacob Glaser, a Navy trauma and critical care surgeon who is also NAMRUS-SA’s department head for trauma and expeditionary medicine.

Glaser is on a 24-hour, seven-days-a-week, backup call. When he is active in the hospital, he typically works a 60-hour week. At the same time, Glaser’s department in NAMRU-SA has been working on proposals to do more COVID-19 research.

“I think COVID in some ways allows us to practice critical care and disaster management at the highest level. I think that all hospital personnel have risen to the challenge and see it as our chance to serve the community in the best way we can,” Glaser said.

NAMRU-SA’s core mission is to improve survivability, readiness, and safety for military personnel in routine and expeditionary operations.