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Chancellor Milliken Remarks – Medical Science and Technology Innovation Virtual Summit with the UT System, US Army Futures Command and US Army Medical Research and Development Command

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Austin

(as prepared)

Welcome

Thank you, General Murray. It is a pleasure to be here with you today to kick off a summit that brings together academic, clinical and military experts focused on research that will continue to save lives and improve the care of those who serve our country.

As you move through today’s sessions, I have no doubt that the great minds who are sharing ideas and research with one another here today will propose meaningful next steps and new ideas for us to explore together.

This forum is another example of the important partnership between the UT System and the Army Futures Command. When the Army selected Austin—and specifically, the UT System Building—for its AFC headquarters, it cited the desire for proximity to innovative academic and research partners.

That’s why the UT System and Army Futures Command share more than a building—we share a belief that innovation, collaboration and an entrepreneurial spirit are the means for addressing the grand challenges facing our organizations and the nation at large.

Importance of UT Research

One of the most important ways that UT institutions support military personnel and veterans, both directly and indirectly, is through research.

And one indication of our commitment to discovery, innovation and treatment is noted through our research expenditures. In FY 2020 alone, research expenditures across the UT System totaled a record $3.4 billion.

Most research conducted at UT institutions is funded by federal, state and private grants, including from the Department of Defense. In fact, as measured by federally-sponsored research expenditures – the benchmark for research success at a university – the UT System is No. 1 in Texas and No. 2 in the nation, behind only the University of California System.

Recent Collaborative Research Agreements

The investment in research and the history of collaboration between UT and military researchers has continued over many years. And that collaboration took a big step forward in 2014 when the UT System entered a formal cooperative research and development agreement with the U.S. Army Research Laboratory to encourage and support new discoveries.  

It was further cemented, of course, when the Pentagon selected the UT System Building as the headquarters for the Army Futures Command in 2018.

And a year later, the UT System Board of Regents approved $20 million to support UT Austin’s collaboration with the Army Futures Command. An additional $30 million was allocated to further strengthen faculty and research capabilities in areas of mutual interest with the Army.

This fall, an outcome of that investment was unveiled with the completion of the first phase of renovations at the UT Austin Robotics Center of Excellence. The research completed in this center will enable robotic technologies to be developed faster, thereby benefitting soldiers in the field more soon.

Examples of UT Research/Initiatives Impacting Combat Care

I enjoyed looking at the overview of some of the exciting research underway to give soldiers injured in combat a better chance of not only surviving but making a more complete recovery. I have followed many of the initiatives underway at UT institutions that focused on these efforts.  I know you’ll be discussing a number of them today, so I thought I’d mention only a few.

New Discoveries

Recognizing that solving some problems requires both technological and biological know-how, UT Dallas created a bioengineering program 10 years ago that is already the third largest in the nation. Partnering with UT Southwestern Medical Center, they are developing the next generation of scientists who can engineer medical solutions that offer hope and healing. Some discoveries have a direct impact on today’s topic, such as developing more realistic and responsive prosthetics, using nerve stimulation to reverse brain dysfunction and sensor technology that can detect sepsis. These technologies will help prevent injuries, detect impairments and restore quality of life.

Another exciting and promising invention is now under development at UT Arlington, where engineers at the university’s Automation & Robotics Research Institute are working with Army surgeons to create a “Biomask” to help soldiers who have suffered disfiguring facial burns or injuries. This pliable, polymer mask is embedded with electrical, mechanical and biological components that can speed healing and improve quality of life.

The supercomputers at UT Austin’s Texas Advanced Computing Center—some of the fastest and most powerful computers in the world—make discoveries more achievable for scientists not only in the UT System but in organizations and institutes around the world working on problems facing soldiers and civilians alike. 

Military/Civilian Trauma Response

Many of the best practices now in place at trauma centers around the world were adapted from lessons learned on the battlefield. Likewise, what is learned from treating civilian patients who suffer traumatic injuries or illnesses can be applied to help soldiers.

Recognizing that symbiotic relationship, UT Health San Antonio is a member of the Trauma Institute of San Antonio, known as TRISAT, the first Congressionally funded, joint military-civilian trauma institute in the United States. TRISAT coordinates academic, community and military resources to treat those who have suffered severe trauma or burns, whether in the city or on the battlefield.

And experiences and expertise obtained through the work of the Memorial Hermann Red Duke Trauma Institute, which includes UTHealth in Houston and brings together the nation’s best clinicians, researchers and educators to develop and deliver the most advanced life-saving services, have been shared to improve emergency response around the world, including on the frontlines.

Brain Health

Many combat casualties involve brain injuries, which can have debilitating physical and psychological effects.

UT Dallas’ Center for Brain Health is working on a brain training program funded by the Department of Defense to help veterans who have sustained a traumatic brain injury. Multidisciplinary teams of neuroscientists, neuroengineers, clinicians, and other experts are researching how to protect and restore brain health, including reducing depression and posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms.

Researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center are also working on brain training related to trauma and concussions suffered in combat. Knowing that concussions acquired in a combat situation present different problems from those injured in other ways, like sports, they are helping these patients recover using a multi-faceted approach that includes medication, counseling, brain training and cognitive rehabilitation.

Behavioral Health

PTSD and other behavioral health conditions are often a result of trauma, as you well know.

Several UT institutions are dedicated to providing assistance with this devastating disorder. UTHealth established a Trauma and Resilience Center focused on the devestating psychological challenges resulting from trauma.

And UT Health San Antonio’s Military Health Institute oversees the world’s largest research network focused on combat-related post-traumatic stress disorder and related conditions.

Going Forward

Just through these few examples, you can tell that we’re very proud of the work being done across the UT System to help military personnel and veterans live long, full lives, even after suffering significant injuries.

One of the benefits of being part of the largest public university system in Texas is the ability to leverage expertise across multiple institutions and programs. We are committed to applying the talent at UT institutions to more effectively prevent and treat the physical and psychological effects of trauma suffered by those serving in the military.

This helps the military, of course, but it also the people of Texas – and beyond. Improving the lives of Texans is at the core of our mission.

The relationship between military and civilian research already is intertwined here in Texas, but I think we can all agree that there is great desire and potential to do so much more. And that’s what you’re doing today.  I know I speak for General Murray and myself when I say we’re turning to you, the best minds in your fields, to take us to the next level of innovations in trauma care. 

Finally, the UT System and the nation owes the US Military our highest gratitude for all the lessons our civilian medical practitioners have put to use after you led the acceleration and reengineering of trauma care.  Not only has our military saved lives on the battlefield, you save them every day in urban and rural hospitals, in nursing homes and rehabilitation hospitals, in ambulances, in our homes, and on our playgrounds.

I am confident that today will mark the start of another era in the evolution and optimization of trauma care.  We’re honored to be your full partners in this effort.  You can count on us.

Thank you.