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Mayo Clinic creates new office to focus on military medical research

Mayo Clinic has created a new Department of Defense Medical Research Office to provide a focal point for its military efforts, ranging from fighting bioterrorism to helping war-wounded amputees walk again.

In the past, Mayo's been secretive about some of its military contracts for both competitive and national security reasons. But this week, it hoped to make a big splash with the announcement, issuing a news release and sending several officials to Washington, D.C., to introduce the new office.

But Dr. Peter Amadio, medical director of the new office, said from Washington, D.C., on Monday night that "this has nothing to do with top-secret kinds of research, just medical research. If someone were doing some top-secret work, they know who to call. So this is not about that."

Rather, Mayo is opening the new office in response to input from the military and clinic researchers — who both struggled to find the right person to talk with about new and ongoing research related to topics such as breast cancer; heart-, bone- and nerve-tissue regeneration; prostate cancer; hyperbaric medicine; traumatic brain injury; high-altitude sickness and prosthetics.

The website for the new office includes video of Adolf Hitler's Nazi regime, the attack on Pearl Harbor and Mayo's secret development of the pressurized flight suit for military pilots.

Mayo military ties date to founder W.W. Mayo, "who moved to Rochester to examine recruits for the Union Army" and the clinic's World War I creation of Army field-hospital laboratories.

The new office, announced as Amadio meets with top military brass in Washington, will guide Mayo's "portfolio of DOD-funded research," according to the clinic. It is designed to be "an easy-to-use single point of contact, linking the research needs of the DOD with Mayo Clinic investigators capable of addressing those needs, and to improve access to funding to serve DOD research-and-development priorities."

According to the U.S. Office of Management and Budget, Mayo received $41.4 million in DOD funding from 2000 to 2014.

Amadio, a Mayo orthopedic surgeon, said the clinic now garners millions of DOD dollars yearly. The office's initial focus will be research, but he said interest from both the military and Mayo suggests it will expand to include treatment and education, such as medical-simulation training.

Laboratory testing, "advanced development" and "exploratory development" are Management and Budget categories for 2013 Mayo DOD-funded studies. But the very-top one is missile/space systems.

"There were some things that were secret during World War II with the G-suit and the oxygen mask, and how to survive parachuting out of a plane at 40,000 feet," Amadio said, listing some of Mayo's now well-known war-related accomplishments.

These days, Mayo works on military projects like computer-controlled artificial limbs, tissue regeneration and other "21st-Century kinds of things."

Current Mayo Department of Defense projects include these:

• Vaccine Research Group and Program in Translational Immunovirology and Biodefense. This team has worked extensively with the Defense Health Board to advise the secretary of defense on all scientific and medical matters related to military readiness.

• Regenerating nerve cells for wounded veterans. A team of Mayo Clinic researchers is part of a national consortium aimed at restoring mobility to severely injured American combat veterans.

• Aerospace Medicine Fellowship. Mayo aerospace researchers work on projects applicable to high-altitude aviation and space exploration.

• Motion training for war-wounded amputees. This team brings evidence-based rehabilitative care to soldiers with musculoskeletal injuries.

• Simulation Center medical readiness training. The Mayo Clinic Multidisciplinary Simulation Center has created "Medical Readiness Training for Combat Zones," which is a four-day training course. The course serves soon-to-be-deployed military medical personnel. Personnel, at all levels, are vetted, trained and prepared for medical duty in combat zones.

Amadio was to visit medical leaders of the three U.S. military branches, Military Appropriations congressional staff and the offices of Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Sen. Al Franken and Rep. Tim Walz.

"That's one of the reasons we're going to Washington, so we can identify who the people are that are at the control points," Amadio said. Those persons are in branches of the service, the administration and Congress.

"We're going to meet with all those kinds of people while we're here in Washington over the next couple days, and I'm sure we'll develop those relationships over time," Amadio said. "So we're not here in Washington to ask for anything. It's just basically to say, look, we're trying to facilitate this communication in two directions."

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