"Optimizing Combat Casualty Care"

The Commander of the U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research, Col. (Dr.) Shawn C. Nessen, center, and the USAISR Senior Enlisted Advisor, Sgt. Maj. William “Dave” Poist Jr., unveil a bronze plaque for Dr. Basil Pruitt Jr., during the USAISR 70thAnniversary Symposium July 18 at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. Photo by Dr. Steven Galvan, USAISR Public Affairs Officer.

USAISR Celebrates 70th Anniversary

Story and photo by Dr. Steven Galvan
USAISR Public Affairs Officer

U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research
13 AUGUST 2018

The U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research celebrated the Institute’s 70th anniversary of operations July 18 at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. To commemorate the occasion, the ISR held a symposium to highlight the contributions in research on trauma and burn care over the last seven decades.

“The ISR has established and maintained a reputation of being the world’s leader in trauma and burn research,” said Col. (Dr.) Shawn Nessen, USAISR commander and trauma consultant to the Army Surgeon General. “That was accomplished through a dedicated staff and leaders who cared about our combat wounded.”

Two former ISR commanders (Drs. Basil Pruitt Jr., 1968-1996; and John Holcomb, 2002-2008) were invited to present historical talks during the day’s events. Pruitt and Holcomb, both retired Army colonels, provided historical insight on the Institute’s contributions to combat casualty care during the Vietnam War, as well as Overseas Contingency Operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Pruitt described how the ISR came into existence during World War II with the discovery of the new antibiotic penicillin. The use of penicillin started in 1943 after a fire at the Cocoanut Grove nightclub in Boston killed 492 people and injured hundreds more in the deadliest nightclub fire in U.S. history.

“Penicillin was used on 13 patients who were gravely ill and they rapidly improved,” explained Pruitt.

Some patients burned in Boston were transferred to Halloran General Hospital in Staten Island, New York where Dr. Champ Lyons was charged by the Army to lead the evaluation of penicillin on the patients. Shortly after that, Lyons who was commissioned as a Major in the Army to establish the first Surgical Research Unit. That SRU was disestablished in 1945 after WWII, but in 1947 a new SRU was created at Brooke General Hospital at Fort Sam Houston with three staff members. Over time, the ISR has grown to more than 840 staff members and is recognized around the world as leaders in trauma and burn research.

“The ISR team effort is incredible and not replicated anywhere else,” said Holcomb. Holcomb described the ISR research efforts during his tenure which included studies on tourniquets, combat gauze, resuscitation for burns and hemorrhage, blood products, and the establishment of the Joint Trauma System