U veterinarians seek DOD funding

Researchers are using animals to test treatments for battlefield injuries.

by Kathryn Elliott

The College of Veterinary Medicine and the Department of Defense make strange bedfellows, but a former DOD employee spoke on campus last week about how the two can benefit each other.
About 20 faculty members listened while Amy Kircher discussed potential ways for the University of Minnesota to get defense funding for animal research.
Among them sat Liz Pluhar, an associate professor of Veterinary Clinical Sciences who got a defense grant to recreate the blast injuries of soldiers âÄî in goats.
Although the DODâÄôs concern is human health, CVM conducts basic and applied research on animals, which could later be applied to human problems, Pluhar said.
Two of CVMâÄôs main sources of funding, the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, depend on congressional appropriations that may diminish in the future.
That could mean less funding for the veterinary school.
Even though the collegeâÄôs current NIH and USDA funding is secure, it has had ongoing discussions about how to diversify its revenue stream âÄî including new forays into relatively untapped resources at the DOD and in private industry.
ThursdayâÄôs session, a monthly event called âÄúCaffeinated Conversations on Research,âÄù focused on creative thinking about external funding opportunities, like the one Pluhar found, and beyond.
CVM research in emerging and zoonotic diseases and comparative medicine âÄî areas that relate to public health âÄî may present opportunities for DOD funding.
Pluhar partnered with a Cleveland research center that already had funding from the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command, a division of the DOD. She said her impression was that once defense funding is secured, âÄúyou tend to get moreâÄù funding.
PluharâÄôs work expands on a decades-old process where researchers anesthetize âÄúlarge animal models,âÄù like goats, and surgically remove small pieces of large bone. Then, they graft bone from other areas of the body to study how the animal heals. Simple bone grafts have had a high success rate, Pluhar said.
SoldiersâÄô blast wounds heal slower and differently, though, because they are often composite injuries, with damage to tissue, muscle and blood vessels in addition to bone fragments.
PluharâÄôs goal is two-fold. First, she makes the injury to the goat more severe to show that it wonâÄôt respond to standard methods of healing, like grafting. Then, she tests new products like stem cells and proteins that induce bone formation.
During ThursdayâÄôs presentation, Kircher, who is now associate director of the UniversityâÄôs National Center for Food Protection and Defense, said one difficult part of pursuing defense funding is navigating the maze of governmental sub-departments and websites.
Kircher discussed new opportunities for researchers to pursue funding.
For example, a recent addition to the website of the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering called the âÄúNew Idea PortalâÄù promises to review ideas for products, services and prototypes the military may want and return an initial response within 30 days.
The department designed the portal to invite companies, entrepreneurs and research organizations âÄúthat have never considered doing business with the Department of DefenseâÄù to submit ideas.
The DOD constantly evolves, Kircher said.
Universities seeking funding must be aware of detailed department requirements, meet deadlines, complete necessary reporting of results and maintain relationships at the department once they are made.
Funding requests for projects that support Defense priorities âÄî fighting the nationâÄôs wars and protecting the fighting forces against threats âÄî are likely to be more effective, Kircher said.
Srirama Rao, CVMâÄôs associate dean for research, said government has consulted University animal researchers about national concerns like the spread of avian and swine flu viruses and issues related to food protection in the past.
ThursdayâÄôs talk on external funding from the DOD is in a very early stage, Rao said.
CVM doesnâÄôt know how extensive new funding opportunities are. The next step, he said, is to go and find out.