Biomedical Research

WRAIR - Daniel K. Inouye Building, external image

The Center for Infectious Disease Research focuses on the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of military-relevant infectious diseases to maintain readiness in deployed forces. WRAIR's global network works with CIDR to prevent threats such as malaria, HIV/AIDS, dengue, diarrheal diseases, multidrug-resistant organisms, and emerging diseases such as Zika and Ebola.

The Center for Military Psychiatry and Neuroscience aims to protect brain health before, during, and after deployment by focusing on behavioral health, combat stress, sleep management, and brain injury. CMPN scientists have developed, validated, and implemented several training regimens to improve psychological resilience, elucidated and exploited the long-term relationship between sleep and performance, characterized and prevented blast and direct trauma to the brain, and helped identify blood biomarkers for diagnosis of concussion. 

The Bacterial Diseases branch addresses two of the top ten most significant infectious disease threats to U.S. Service Members, as identified by DOD-MIDRP - diarrheal diseases and multidrug resistant bacteria.

Bacterial threats take and keep Services Members out of the fight, threatening unit readiness and wound recovery. Nearly one out of five Soldiers deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan for at least seven months were confined to quarters for 3-4 days due to diarrheal disease. More dangerously, Soldiers experiencing a combat wound face the additional threat of multidrug-resistant (MDR) infection—a potentially life-threatening complication whose rise coincides with a growing lack of efficacy from gold-standard, antibiotic treatments.

Bacterial Disease branch (BDB) seeks to overcome these threats by developing new vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics, targeting the most dangerous pathogens—Enterococcus faecium, Staphylococcus aureus, Klebsiella pneumoniae, Acinetobacter baumannii, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Enterobacter species, and Escherichia coli—through the Multidrug Resistant Organism Repository and Surveillance Network (MRSN), developing an effective diarrheal vaccine, and new antibiotics, including bacteriophages and novel antibiotic drug classes.

WRAIR's Behavioral Biology investigators develop knowledge products and materiel solutions to enhance Soldier alertness, decision-making, and performance in the context of degraded sleep quantity and quality across the spectrum of Army operations. 

It was believed that Soldiers operating in high-tempo, operational environments could operate effectively on four hours of sleep. Yet scientists have long understood the relationship between sleep loss and impaired performance—marking data that 51% of active duty U.S. Army, Air Force and Navy personnel have obstructive sleep apnea and another 24% suffer from insomnia as significant threats to readiness and lethality. Yet, a full night's sleep is often not an option for Soldiers—especially those operating in combat environments. 

WRAIR attempts to understand and mitigate the relationship between sleep loss and Soldier performance using study data from field operations, specially designed human sleep research suites, and mathematical modeling and simulation tools. Behavioral Biology studies the utility of the WRAIR-discovered phenomenon of "sleep banking" against future sleep demand, models sleep and performance, maximizes the recuperative value of sleep, characterizes the action and effects of stimulants and sleep-inducing drugs, and studies chemical intervention for acute stress exposure. 

Soldiers in combat settings are at high risk of exposure to blast-induced head injuries, both during operational training exercises and in the field. Blast Induced Neurotrauma (BINT) researchers investigate the mechanism of closed-head injury and the cumulative effects of repeated blast exposure and its relationship to neurodegenerative phenomena.

Using laboratory experiments, mathematical modeling techniques, and data captured in the field, BINT scientists work to develop standardized models of blast injury to improve coordination of research across diverse laboratories, produce high-fidelity simulations of head injury, study whether cellular- and organ-level processes in head trauma are a unique form of injury, and innovate new forms of personal protective equipment, such as improved helmet designs. Cumulatively, these efforts produce safer operating conditions for Soldiers.

Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a major threat to the readiness of our Soldiers. U.S. Service Members face a higher risk of TBI, both in scope and frequency, than civilians. Brain Trauma and Neuroprotection (BTN) has long sought an FDA approved neuroprotective agent for TBI along with TBI biomarker discovery, research efforts that continue to this day.

With valuable industry partners, BTN is also researching many unique therapies to address brain injury, including enhancing cellular energetics, introducing neural stem cells and autologous cell therapies, and developing other neuroprotective strategies to improve outcomes after TBI.

Building on decades of prescient investments into broad capabilities and a product-oriented research infrastructure, the U.S. Army and WRAIR have been able to consistently maintain a posture of readiness and response to the most pressing pathogens that threaten U.S. and allied forces.

In recent years, however, as the onslaught of emerging infectious diseases (EID), and the public health emergencies they precipitate, has intensified (Zika, Ebola, and pandemic influenza), WRAIR had to turn legacy assets to the task of responding to each outbreak. In 2018, WRAIR announced the creation of a new Emerging Infectious Diseases branch (EIDB), with the explicit mission to survey, anticipate and counter the mounting threat of emerging infectious diseases of key importance to U.S. forces in the homeland and abroad.

WRAIR’s team of entomologists support Force Readiness and global health by developing and testing products to reduce the risk of vector-borne diseases.

Mosquito- and sandfly-borne diseases, including malaria, leishmaniasis, dengue, and Zika virus, are the most pressing threats to the medical readiness of Soldiers. Entomology works to mitigate that threat by developing new means of bite protection and pest management in addition to supporting WRAIR's product development efforts by performing basic and applied research on the interactions between disease vectors and pathogens. 

With departments like the Insectary and Walter Reed Biosystematics Unit, Entomology plays a critical role in drug and vaccine development at WRAIR and with partners in academia, industry, and the federal government. Prospective partners are welcome to reach out through the WRAIR Public Affairs Office for more information or to schedule a visit.

Experimental Therapeutics (ET) is a drug discovery and development enterprise created to protect military personnel from death, disease, and injury and meet Army and DOD mission requirements. While its historical focus has been radioprotection and parasitic disease, ET applies its core competencies of medicinal, synthetic, and analytical chemistry as well as clinical pharmacology to all therapeutic areas within the Medical Research and Development Command's portfolio.

ET has a 75-year legacy of excellence in small molecule drug development, with over 65 Investigational New Drug (IND) applications submitted to the U.S. Food and Drug Administrations (FDA). ET is a world leader in malaria drug developmentevery malaria prophylaxis drug was either created by ET scientists or transited ET test systems on its way to FDA approval.  ET recently established a robust antibacterial product development effort mandated by the Presidential Combating Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria (CARB) initiative.

Malaria among remains the most significant infectious disease facing U.S. Service Members deployed around the world. Infection with malaria is responsible for an estimated 5,300-21,000 lost work hours and $1.12-4.37 million per year in evacuation and medical care costs despite existing countermeasures like chemoprophylactic drugs, permethrin-impregnated uniforms, bed nets, and DEET. These infections are largely driven by poor adherence to personal protective measures, chemoprophylaxis, and rising regional drug resistance.

A safe, durable, and efficacious malaria vaccine will eliminate the burden of compliance and associated side effects of daily or weekly chemoprophylaxis, overcome regional drug resistance to currently available antimalarials, and provide an alternative to individuals with G6PD deficiency. Protection against malaria infection improves unit readiness and the likeliness of mission success.

MVB is an integrated, broad, translational enterprise spanning discovery science to field efficacy trials. Our mission is to develop new vaccines and other products to reliably prevent malaria infection in military personnel by maintaining robust, expert competency in basic and applied research areas in order to transition candidate products to advanced clinical testing in endemic areas.

The U.S. Military HIV Research Program (MHRP) is at the forefront of the battle to protect U.S. troops from HIV and reduce its global impact. Since its inception in 1986, MHRP has emerged as a world leader in HIV diagnostics, threat assessment and epidemiology, and vaccine and functional cure research. With the persistent and destabilizing social, economic, and political impact of HIV/AIDS, high infection rates in many of the regions where military personnel are deployed, rising life-long treatment costs, and a sustained rate of new HIV infections in U.S. Service Members, MHRP’s HIV research and care mandates remain highly critical to military and civilian populations.

With an international network of research sites throughout Africa, Thailand, and Germany, the MHRP has achieved success through a combination of strong science, careful development of research sites, and partnerships with key research institutions in the U.S. and host countries. MHRP implements the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) prevention and treatment initiatives, building strong and trusting relationships within the communities where research is conducted. For more information visit MHRP's website.

WRAIR's Military Psychiatry branch develops evidence-based knowledge products and interventions to optimize the readiness and resilience of Soldiers across the deployment cycle. In order to maintain an effective and lethal fighting force, Soldiers must be properly equipped to confront the psychological demands of military service and warfare. Psychiatric disorders amongst Soldiers are the leading cause of hospital bed days and the second leading cause of medical encounters, marking them as a significant threat to Soldier welfare and readiness.

Members of WRAIR's Military Psychiatry branch have surveyed deployed units around the world to document the prevalence of emerging and existing behavioral health concerns, and to identify related risk factors. These data are used to inform Commanders' decision-making about behavioral health and other resources, and Military Psychiatry's neurocognitive intervention development efforts and behavioral health policy recommendations.

Viral diseases pose a significant threat to Soldier health, readiness, and lethality. Especially in training and field environments, Soldiers live and work in close proximity, allowing pathogens to spread with ease. Some diseases are commonplace at home station, like influenza; others, like dengue, are prevalent where Soldiers deploy.  

WRAIR's Viral Disease branch (VDB) works in collaboration with academia, industry, and other government agencies to detect and eliminate viral threats to Soldiers by supporting disease surveillance around the world to inform force health protection decisions, identify targets for new preventives and treatments, and develop arbovirus and respiratory virus vaccines. 

VDB quickly identifies and responds to emerging and existing viral threats to keep Soldiers in the fight. This unique infrastructure is organized to monitor viral epidemics and outbreaks throughout the world, provide early warnings, and develop products such as approved vaccines for influenza, Japanese encephalitis, adenovirus and hepatitis A.