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AFRL academic research partnership to investigate operational stressors on Airmen

Air Force Research Laboratory scientist Dr. Saber Hussain views particle interaction with cultured cells. His work on the development of a model to identify the impact of stressors on Airmen is at the center of a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement that will establish a new laboratory facility at Wright State University.  (Courtesy photo)

Air Force Research Laboratory scientist Dr. Saber Hussain views particle interaction with cultured cells. His work on the development of a model to identify the impact of stressors on Airmen is at the center of a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement that will establish a new laboratory facility at Wright State University. (Courtesy photo)

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio – The Air Force Research Laboratory is partnering with Wright State University to better understand stressors that affect pilots and the impacts they have on the mission and well-being of Airmen.

The two research partners recently signed a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement to advance the development of a multi-organ system model that will accurately identify the impact of stressors that can arise during the course of a mission. These can include anything from extreme physical exertion, high temperatures, excessive G-Force, pressure changes, low oxygen environments, or exposure to chemicals or particle contaminants.

Such stressors can occur during both normal and high-risk operational scenarios, potentially hindering performance and causing any number of physiological changes in flight personnel. Stress factors can result in molecular and biochemical alterations that can impact cognition, vision, and hearing, and cause premature fatigue. By developing a model that focuses on the interactions between these stressors and physiological factors, researchers will be better able to predict how changing pilots’ operating environments affects their overall health and welfare.

“Our primary objective is to develop scientific knowledge and innovative technologies to support advanced medical science and technology to sustain and restore Airman health and performance in multifaceted operational environments,” said Dr. Saber Hussain, AFRL 711th Human Performance Wing scientist and project lead. “This agreement gives us the tools we need to better achieve those goals.”

Through the agreement, AFRL gains access to a large laboratory space within the Wright State University Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology’s Medical Science Building. AFRL will have use of some of the school’s core facilities including the Proteomics and Preclinical Pharmacology labs, as well as the Pharmacology Translational Unit. The team will also have access to freezers, refrigerators, centrifuges and other supplies currently available in the research space.

Wright State, in turn, will gain a new avenue through which to offer enhanced professional development opportunities to students, as well as the potential to submit future joint proposals with AFRL that could result in additional funding.

“This collaboration will provide a forum for Wright State students to improve their analytic skills and capabilities and will present our students with real-world research activities and internships with the Air Force,” said Dr. Jeffrey Travers, Wright State University Chair of the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology. “Our graduate students will benefit greatly from the close working relationship with and training provided by Dr. Hussain and the AFRL team.”

This research agreement strengthens an already robust relationship between the AFRL 711th Human Performance Wing and Wright State. It also represents a significant cost savings for the Air Force in terms of laboratory facilities and basic equipment.

“This partnership with Wright State University not only enriches our scientific and technical expertise, but also gives us an opportunity to work with student scientists and engineers who may become part of our future workforce, all key tenants of the Air Force 2030 Science and Technology Strategy,” said Hussain.  

Dr. Darrin Ott, AFRL 711th Human Performance Wing Aerospace and Operational Medicine Core Technical Competency lead, added, “Wright State University and Wright-Patterson Air Force Base obviously have a long, positive relationship, but an occasional refresh can be beneficial. I think with the push to connect to outside innovators highlighted so prominently in our strategies, now is a great time for the refresh to really take hold. Because of that, I think these collaborations have more promise than ever and all involved are excited to see that future unfold.”

The AFRL and Wright State University partners expect to begin initial discussions toward the standup of the lab later this year.