(MILITARY TIMES) The Pentagon runs a massive medical research program, studying a broad range of problems from cancer to malaria to sleep disorders.
The work is done at home and abroad. For instance, The Defense Department partners on AIDS prevention with African forces, and the Army worked on an experimental AIDS vaccine tested in Thailand, announcing a breakthrough in the vaccine on Thursday.
Though military research has also benefited the civilian world, the main reason for the huge effort is to protect the U.S. armed forces as they are exposed to disease and injury while deployed around the world.
“If half of your force comes down with malaria, you can’t do the mission,” said Cynthia Smith, a Pentagon spokeswoman.
Important research under way now also includes work on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, suicides and brain trauma, as the military wrestles with the wounded coming home from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and the strain those two wars has created on the force.
Some of the research work is done by uniformed and civilian Pentagon employees, while other studies are contracted to academia.
Smith said the Defense Department budget for medical research in budget year 2009 was more than $917 million, but noted the figure doesn’t include money also spent by the individual services. For instance, the Army does biodefense research in its laboratory in Fort Detrick, Md. The Navy has research labs in Peru, Jakarta and Egypt.
“Having our labs placed overseas where the diseases are endemic is very important because that’s where the diseases are,” said Cmdr. Eric Hall, a spokesman for the Naval Medical Research Center.
In Peru, for instance, researchers study infectious diseases such as the pandemic flu or the dengue virus. They also help train local workers in how to investigate outbreaks and help local U.S. diplomatic missions where they are located. As an example, researchers in Asia provided lab support and humanitarian assistance after the Indonesian tsunami, he said.