Hi folks! I am super excited to bring to you someone who caught my interest because of his work in a field that exclusively focuses on merging cutting edge technology and the health/well-being of the human body. Troy currently manages the Advanced Prosthetics and Human Performance research portfolio at the Telemedicine and Advanced Technology Research Center (TATRC) of the U. S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command (USMRMC), at Fort Detrick, Maryland. Additionally, he serves as the Deputy Chief of the Knowledge Engineering Group, including TATRC’s Robotic Combat Casualty Extraction and Evacuation program.
This interview contains questions related to his job, his thoughts on the prosthetic industry and what the future may hold for soldiers and civilians alike in the biotechnology field.
Q: What attracted you to the area of prosthetics and particularly for the military?
I worked in the telecommunications field for several years, and at that time had a position with Nortel Networks as an operations manager over the Mid-Atlantic & Great Lakes regions. It was a great job, and I really enjoyed working at Nortel, but it was not long lived as Nortel laid off about 65,000 people in the Spring of 2001. In the Fall of 2001 I was approached by Dr. Gary Gilbert with an invitation to visit with him at the Telemedicine and Advanced Technology Research Center (TATRC) at Fort Detrick, in Frederick, MD. At that time I really only knew Gary as another of the hockey dad’s on the mite-age travel ice hockey team that I managed, and on which both of ours sons played. Though I had served in the military from 1985 to 1989, it was in the telecommunications field, and I knew nothing about the medical research field.
The week after September, 11, 2001, I visited with Gary at TATRC. During the visit, I learned about TATRC and their mission, hearing about many of the very cool things TATRC was managing. At the end of the meeting, Gary offered me a job at TATRC. Although I had never worked in any field related to medical research, Gary watched me manage our sons’ hockey team, and decided that if I could keep all those parents herded and headed in the same direction, that I had at least a good bit of the skill needed to succeed in the TATRC world.
A couple of years later I was asked to become involved in standing up, or starting, or new area of research of TATRC in the area of Advanced Prosthetics & Rehabilitation. The way TATRC operates and takes projects from the proposal stage to an awarded project is complicated, creative, and can take a long time to understand. However, the way we needed to do some things in this research portfolio required us to step outside even TATRC’s normal “sandbox.” Many times we were told “you can’t do it that way”, and then we’d go ahead and do it anyway, and it did work. We were working for U.S. military members who had lost limbs in Iraq & Afghanistan, and getting hung up in red tape and bureaucracy was simply not an option.
So that’s how I became involved, but the men and women for whom we work, and the help we’re able to bring to them is what keeps me involved. You will never meet people more motivated and more determined to never quit than those soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marine’s dealing with limb loss. Sure they have bad days along with the good days, but you can’t meet or speak with them and not leave feeling upbeat.
Q: It seems as though the division in which you work uses cutting edge technology on a daily basis for the various arms of the US Military – do you see the technology being used for civilians any time soon?
TATRC doesn’t actually “use” cutting edge medical technology. TATRC awards and manages congressionally appropriated funding intended for advanced technology medical research projects. TATRC manages research for the DoD ranging from Advanced Prosthetics & Human Performance, to Medical Robotics, to Modeling & Simulation, Neuroscience, Tissue Regeneration, and so forth. Much of this can be seen on our website at www.tatrc.org. Information specific to the Advanced Prosthetics and Human Performance portfolio is at http://www.tatrc.org/prosthetics.
The technology being developed through the research projects is being developed not just by leading research universities and institutes, but also by small businesses. In addition to developing advanced and next generation technologies, a primary goal of ours and the performing organization is for the research to result in something that can be commercialized, or provided as an input to another project which will benefit not just members of the military, but civilians around the world. In this field of research, the science and technology crosses the military/civilian boundary so readily since we’re not dealing with an area of research that is specific to the military. I will say though that while this work easily crosses into the civilian realm, some of the technology being developed her will require greater levels of insurance reimbursement before the majority of civilian users will be able to take advantage of them.
Q: What are the most important issues that are being addressed in prosthetics research for military use? Are these in any way similar to issues facing civilian use?
Military-specific issues being addressed in advanced prosthetics research are the use of the device in extreme environments. This means not just the durability of the device, but also the ability of the device to respond, or even predict the activity of the user and be able to adapt instantaneously to that activity. The great thing is that military specific activities are virtually identical to extreme civilian activities. This includes activities such as running, jumping, swimming, diving, snow skiing, water skiing, bicycling, rock climbing, hiking, carrying very heavy loads, driving vehicles of all configurations, and not having to recharge the device every four hours. Providing prosthetic components that can enable this level of activity will allow young amputees to participate and compete, but will also bring capabilities to devices used by less active individuals that will improve their quality of daily living as well as give them back the opportunity to become more active as well.
Q: What is a typical work day like for you?
A typical day? I used to think there was such a thing, now I know there isn’t. There is a constant process of dealing with research proposals. We are always working with researchers in funded projects, helping them improve their studies and development efforts, as well as helping them network with other researchers that may be able to add to the effort. Part of this includes engaging on a national and even international level with relevant associations, academies, and conferences, in order to learn and know the field, what’s hot, what’s not, what the people that work in the trenches of the field think, and most importantly the needs of the users, those who will hopefully benefit from the work research.
…stay tuned for Troy’s thoughts on future advancements and more! Part 2 coming later this week.
(For those who want to peer inside the mind of Troy on a regular basis, you can follow him on Twitter!)