NEWS | Jan. 15, 2021

NAMRU-SA participates in first virtual San Antonio postdoctoral research forum

By Randy Martin Naval Medical Research Unit San Antonio Public Affairs

Naval Medical Research Unit San Antonio, or NAMRU-SA, was one of five academic or scientific research institutions in San Antonio to provide presenters, judges, organizers and attendees for the annual San Antonio Postdoctoral Research Forum, Dec. 7-11, 2020. Due to COVID-19, it was the first time the program went virtual in its eight-year history.

The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio was SAPRF’s host. According to its website, SAPRF is a research and networking symposium that showcases postdoctoral research fellows from institutions across San Antonio.

For NAMRU-SA, it was an opportunity to highlight the unit’s battlefield health and trauma care initiatives.

“SAPRF is an excellent opportunity to share information among professionals, in turn broadening perspectives throughout a network of scientists from very diverse institutions,” said Cmdr. Linda Smith, a Navy Medical Corps doctor and NAMRU-SA’s executive officer. Smith said that NAMRU-SA’s staff raised involvement by contributing research material so that the nonmilitary, scientific research community knows of NAMRU-SA’s initiatives.

Dozens of NAMRU-SA’s scientists, engineers and support staff adapted for the new format.

Smith said that during the convention three scientists presented posters on topics including the application of phage display to develop a molecular probe for snake venom identification, improving envenomation outcomes by inhibiting systemic distribution factors, and physical, chemical, and biological comparison of clinically available products for their use in alveolar ridge preservation.

For all participants, this year’s SAPRF was unique.

In the computer-generated format, attendees transited the virtual convention space as an avatar. Each could pause and view any of the more than 85 posters, the tools that scientists routinely use to present, describe, and promote their work. One hundred preselected judges provided feedback and projects were ranked within contributing institutions to give an element of competition. According to Smith, the number of entries broke previous participation records.

Among the judges were several of NAMRU-SA’s senior scientists.

“We were able to review the posters ahead of time to familiarize ourselves with the material and prepare to pose questions to presenters via a chat program,” said Dr. Ashley Dacy, a biomedical engineer in NAMRU-SA’s Biomedical Systems Engineering and Evaluation Department. “The additional time meant I could offer even more meaningful feedback than in a live presentation.”

Other NAMRU-SA staff members served as panelists for question and answer sessions regarding topics affecting careers in science.

“SAPRF was a good opportunity to let the science community in San Antonio know the excellent scientific research that goes on in NAMRU-SA," said Dr. Yoon Hwang, a Department of Defense scientist of the year award winner and member of NAMRU-SA’s Maxillofacial Injury and Disease Department.

“It’s also good for the potential collaboration with universities or biotech companies and recruiting highly qualified postdoctoral fellows and research scientists,” Hwang said.

The format for 2021’s SAPRF isn’t set but NAMRU-SA is already planning to expand its role.