Focus Areas

Aerospace medicine and vestibular research

Research in the Aerospace Medicine & Vestibular Research Laboratory primarily focuses on investigating problems that emanate from human exposure to the high and extreme altitude, acceleration, and spatial disorientation environment.

This team studies the ability to influence and enhance spatial orientation by use of galvanic vestibular stimulation. This work also encompasses the mitigation of motion and simulator sickness, making it of broader relevance in flight simulation.

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Airway biology

The Airway Biology Laboratory studies signal transduction mechanisms that regulate the structure and function of airway smooth muscle during development and in adulthood. The major focus is on mechanisms that regulate smooth muscle contractility and their role in clinically relevant problems such as asthma and airway inflammation.

The long-term goal of these studies is to help formulate more-effective and safer therapies for use in the operating room and intensive care medicine — both important areas for supporting the war fighter — that will alleviate symptoms of bronchospasm and bronchoconstriction.

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Altitude physiology

Mayo Clinic has placed strong emphasis on the study of altitude physiology through its involvement in the U.S. Antarctic Program, which has a large number of healthy people going to the South Pole through the sea-level McMurdo Station each spring and summer.

Although the altitudes are not extreme, most personnel will have mild to moderate altitude-related symptoms. The frequency, intensity and duration of symptoms have not been formally quantified previously in the U.S. Antarctic Program.

Of particular relevance to the Department of Defense: The highly structured Antarctic program offers a unique opportunity to study predictors of altitude illness in an otherwise healthy population that cannot be easily pursued at other locations.

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Anesthesia outcomes

The Anesthesia Clinical Research Unit is a dedicated team of clinical research professionals within the Mayo Clinic Department of Anesthesiology. The unit provides support to faculty and pharmaceutical sponsors for research within the fields of anesthesiology, critical care and pain management.

Areas of assistance cross a number of Department of Defense research focal points, including data collection, clinical trial design, pharmacologic consultation, statistical analysis, analytical methodology and budget development. Research spans numerous locations, including the operating rooms, post-anesthesia care units, intensive care units, pain management clinics and the Mayo Clinical Research Unit made possible by the Clinical and Translational Science Award from the National Institutes of Health.

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Biomechanics and motion analysis

Mayo Clinic conducts a wide range of studies in the Biomechanics Laboratory that examine joint and soft tissue mechanics. Studies characterize tissue properties, assess devices and surgical procedure outcomes, and make use of both standard and custom-made testing equipment. Kai-Nan An, Ph.D., of Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., directs the Biomechanics Laboratory.

Two particular areas of focus in the laboratory relevant to Department of Defense interests are:

  • Developing novel protocols for biomechanical research using medical imaging technology, such as fluoroscopy, ultrasound, CT and MRI
  • Investigating the influence of mechanical stimulus on cell function and organization in tissue (mechanobiology), which will facilitate the future success of tissue engineering

Mayo also studies direct motion treatment options in its Motion Analysis Laboratory. Directed by Kenton R. Kaufman, Ph.D., of Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., the Motion Analysis Laboratory offers state-of-the-art treatment planning for patients with movement difficulties, aids in documenting results of therapeutic procedures and conducts research on future clinical applications of human movement analysis.

Modern motion analysis techniques, such as those used in the Motion Analysis Laboratory, can evaluate all aspects of a patient's gait at one time, allowing simultaneous treatment of as many issues as possible.

A key benefit of motion analysis is improved clinical decision-making. Using objective data gathered in the Motion Analysis Laboratory, clinicians can determine the most appropriate surgery or other treatment to correct each person's gait issue or other movement disorder. Depending on the condition, several surgical and nonsurgical therapies may be considered.

The team also helps wounded veterans with lower-limb prostheses improve their lives by focusing on rehabilitative training methods. The technologies and techniques developed for military personnel who have lost their legs in battle easily transfers to civilian need as well.

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Biomedical imaging

Mayo Clinic's Biomedical Imaging Laboratory is actively engaged in several areas of translational research, with emphasis on scientific analysis and visualization of multimodal images and image-guided, computer-assisted, minimally invasive clinical procedures.

The lab, under the leadership of imaging pioneer Richard A. Robb, Ph.D., of Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., pursues a wide cross section of imaging research, setting new standards in numerous areas relevant to the health of the war fighter, both on and off the field. Fields of study include:

  • Display and analysis
  • Volume visualization
  • Computer graphics
  • Virtual reality
  • Virtual environments
  • Image databases
  • Computer workstations
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Blood loss

This team is studying blood loss from internal injuries and how the body responds to extreme environments. The results are helping the Army develop better monitors to determine who needs a transfusion and who doesn't in battlefield trauma situations. The goal is to optimize combat casualty care in the pre-hospital setting. Watch "How the Body Responds to Blood Loss" (YouTube video).

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Chronic pain

Chronic pain affects more than 50 million Americans each year, including thousands of men and women in active service duty and many more veterans living into their later years. Pain often results in disability and, even when not disabling, has a profound effect on quality of life.

In Mayo's Chronic Pain Laboratory, multidisciplinary teams of researchers are focusing on three central areas of research:

  • Transcriptomics and epigenetic mechanisms of chronic pain
  • Bioinformatics methods development for short-read sequencing (next-generation sequencing) genomics studies in neuroscience
  • Gene therapy for pain
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Developmental and regenerative neurobiology

Mayo Clinic's Developmental and Regenerative Neurobiology Laboratory engages in advanced research in regenerative neuroscience at the molecular, cell biological and integrative levels. The lab offers an integrated approach to training in modern neurobiology, utilizing molecular, biochemical and cell biological techniques as well as advanced optical imaging.

A key research goal is to understand the mechanisms underlying the guidance of nerve growth in the developing and regenerating nervous system. Within this theme, specific topics under investigation include molecular analysis of receptors and signal transduction mechanisms; axon guidance, target recognition and regeneration; formation and plasticity of synapses; and development of neural networks.

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Human integrative physiology

Mayo Clinic's Human Integrative and Environmental Physiology Laboratory and Clinical Pharmacology Laboratory are studying how the peripheral circulation and autonomic reflexes adapt to physical stresses such as standing, exercising or body heating — all areas of importance to the active war fighter.

In many of these studies, researchers use both invasive and noninvasive techniques to measure blood flow in human volunteers. The subjects then engage in activities (for example, exercise) that evoke physiological responses, and researchers infuse agonist and antagonist drugs to understand the mechanisms that govern the responses.

Areas of interest include:

  • Blood flow to exercising muscles
  • Skin blood flow responses to heating
  • Physiological responses to orthostatic stress
  • The autonomic nervous system and its receptors
  • Physiological responses to bariatric surgery
  • Pharmacological agents relevant to anesthesia
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Hyperbaric chamber

Mayo's hyperbaric chamber is used to simulate an altitude of up to 100,000 feet, enabling researchers to study an individual's ability to tolerate extreme elevations encountered in commercial flight, suborbital flight and other extreme environments. Mayo is assisting in the development of new-generation emergency oxygen delivery systems for commercial aircraft.

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Infection and immunity

The research program in infection and immunity at Mayo Clinic is aimed at understanding host-pathogen interaction and improving the management of various infectious diseases, with a major focus on orthopedic and transplant-related infections. Both are key areas of value to the Department of Defense, especially orthopedics.

The research approach stretches from bench to bedside, leading to valuable deliverables — products that can serve patients today. The Infection and Immunity Laboratory achieves these goals by focusing on three areas:

  • Laboratory-based projects aimed at understanding the interaction between the human host and the invading microbe
  • Translational research projects that apply laboratory data to the clinical arena
  • Clinical projects to assess the state of clinical practice and generate relevant questions that need further laboratory-based investigations
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Infectious diseases

Translational research is the hallmark of infectious diseases research at Mayo Clinic with a goal of delivering new and effective care quickly and efficiently. Work over the past 50-plus years has led to numerous diagnostics, infection control tools, and novel drugs and therapeutics.

It is not unusual for basic research discoveries to be immediately translated into a change in clinical approach, and many achievements have led to direct deliverables supportive of the war fighter in the field or in the hospital.

Investigators and clinicians collaborate to conduct clinical trials that provide patients with access to novel, experimental diagnostics and therapies for life-threatening infections. Investigations include emerging pathogens, novel diagnostic and therapeutic approaches, gene therapy, antimicrobial resistance, and counterbioterrorism, such as the rapid test for anthrax.

Infectious disease investigators conduct in vitro and in vivo studies of new anti-microbics, study novel patterns and mechanisms of antimicrobial resistance, track emerging pathogens, and develop unique antimicrobial therapies. Methods include culture, molecular techniques and animal models.

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Lung defense, infection and fibrosis

Mayo Clinic is placing special emphasis on lung defense. One focus in the Lung Defense, Infection and Fibrosis Laboratory is to better understand lung defense as it relates to infection in immunocompromised hosts.

The lab has been very engaged in understanding the life cycle and mechanisms by which Pneumocystis carinii infects immunocompromised individuals. Recent studies have led to new insights for modulating immunity as well as for discovering new drug targets for this important opportunistic infection.

A second concern is to better understand mechanisms of lung fibrosis in the idiopathic interstitial pneumonias. The idiopathic interstitial pneumonias are diseases without known causes that slowly lead to the replacement of the lung with scar material. The lab has focused upon the role of two important cytokines, including transforming growth factor-beta and tumor necrosis factor-alpha.

Through a combination of cell studies and animal modeling, the lab is aiming to develop new modalities to treat patients with these important lung diseases.

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Magnetic resonance imaging

Mayo's program in magnetic resonance imaging is leading the nation in expanding the range of tissue, organ and system characteristics that can be noninvasively evaluated with MRI techniques. These studies include several areas of potential interest to the Department of Defense: investigation of new methods for high-resolution MRI of moving structures, techniques of ultrafast MRI and methods for noninvasive mapping of the vascular system, especially the coronary arteries.

Studies of the basic physics of motion effects in the magnetic resonance data acquisition process have led to the development of "navigator echo" and "autocorrection" imaging techniques that are highly suited for resolving structures that are in motion. Other studies employ MRI to quantitatively assess vascular flow characteristics such as velocity, volumetric rates, and disordered flow or turbulence.

Research is directed at developing novel magnetic resonance techniques to probe bone trabecular morphology, measure cellular organization in space and noninvasively delineate the mechanical properties of the tissue.

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Regenerative neurobiology

Mayo Clinic clinicians, scientists, engineers and other specialists in the Center for Regenerative Medicine are taking a multidisciplinary integrative approach to neuroregeneration for a number of devastating neurological conditions. The research is multifaceted, ranging from basic science discovery to clinical applications.

Through the center, Mayo scientists are addressing a number of serious conditions aimed at achieving effective clinical applications. Many areas of regenerative neurobiology will have direct relevance to the war fighter. They include:

  • Immune response and neuroregeneration
  • Spinal cord repair
  • Neuro-oncology and neuroregenerative research
  • Neuroregeneration and inflammation
  • Neurogenesis
  • Neurorehabilitation
  • Transduction mechanisms mediating bidirectional nerve growth
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Regional anesthesia

The focus of Mayo Clinic's Regional Anesthesia Study Team is to examine the safety, efficacy and utilization of regional anesthetic techniques during the perioperative period. Perioperative outcomes, modalities of application (for example, traditional techniques and ultrasound guidance) and complications are all primary areas of interest. Research includes simulation and medical education, models of resident and fellow education, and anesthesia history.

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Remote medical monitoring

A Mayo Clinic team has developed a broad-based remote monitoring system that enables continuous or intermittent physiologic monitoring and detection of abnormalities arising from a range of medical conditions before they lead to clinically significant concerns. The recorded information is fed into algorithms, giving the health care provider the ability to assess the patient, even though the patient may be thousands of miles away.

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Shoulder and elbow

As all military branches know, injuries affecting the elbow can be very debilitating. Overcoming the pain, loss of motion and resulting loss of function can be a significant challenge for patients.

Mayo Clinic, through its Shoulder and Elbow Laboratory, is making considerable strides in the development and refinement of techniques to repair or reconstruct injured elbows. One specific focus is on radial head arthroplasty, affecting up to 33 percent of all elbow fractures.

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Tendon and soft tissue biology

The Tendon and Soft Tissue Biology Laboratory, led by Peter C. Amadio, M.D., of Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., focuses its research on injuries to tendons and soft tissues. Flexor tendon injury and repair poses a surgical challenge because of the high complication rate, including adhesion formation, gapping and rupture, which typically require a second surgery to restore the finger function — obviously areas of crucial importance throughout the military.

Current research includes lubricant effect, optimal postoperative rehabilitation, appropriate surgical repair and reconstruction techniques, and role of growth factor on tendon healing and adhesion formation.

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Tissue engineering and biomaterials

Mayo's focus on biomaterials as drug delivery vehicles or temporary scaffolds crosscut three important areas: bone, cartilage and nerve tissue engineering. Michael J. Yaszemski, M.D., Ph.D., of Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., leads the program at Mayo and holds a number of current grants and contracts with the Department of Defense. He is also a brigadier general and mobilization assistant to the assistant surgeon general for health care operations.

Current research in the Tissue Engineering and Biomaterials Laboratory focuses on injectable composite scaffolds incorporating bone morphogenetic protein-2 to regenerate critical-sized defects in a rat femoral defect model. Hydrogels capable of cell and growth factor delivery are assessed for injectable cartilage tissue engineering. Finally, nerve tubes with multiple parallel channels have been investigated as guidance scaffolds for peripheral nerve and spinal cord regeneration.

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Traumatic brain injury

Among the most critical and fundamental injuries faced by the war fighter, traumatic brain injury is a key research area at Mayo Clinic. The Traumatic Brain Injury Program at Mayo Clinic is a Traumatic Brain Injury Model System designee of the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR), one of only 16 facilities in the U.S. supported by the NIDRR.

In the past five years, local and collaborative research projects have resulted in 75 peer-reviewed publications and nearly 150 national and international presentations with the program. Recent research projects focus on:

  • Internet use and online social participation among individuals with traumatic brain injury
  • Resilience after traumatic brain injury
  • Test-retest reliability of Traumatic Brain Injury Model System Form II measures with people with traumatic brain injury
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Ultrasound imaging

Mayo Clinic's primary focus in the Ultrasound Imaging Laboratory is on developing new applications in medical and biological areas. Three pillars of the lab cross the continuum of science to delivery: theoretical studies, experimentation and clinical application development.

The lab thrives on its multidisciplinary, team-based approach to science, combining physics, biology, mathematics, engineering and medical science expertise. Current projects include:

  • Arterial properties from stimulated acoustical emission
  • Combined acoustic imaging and viscoelastic parameters estimation in breast cancer
  • Measurement of renal viscoelastic properties with ultrasound
  • Multidimensional heart imaging with ultrasound
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Vaccines

The Vaccine Research Group, led by Gregory A. Poland, M.D., of Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., is organized under the Clinical Pharmacology unit in the Mayo Clinic Department of Medicine. Dr. Poland is a world leader in vaccine research and holds numerous Department of Defense grants and contracts.

Research by the Vaccine Research Group covers a variety of groundbreaking areas in the field, including serology, cell-mediated immunity, cell culture and cytokine assays; PCR techniques and HLA typing for immunogenetic studies; and high-throughput assays, such as next-generation sequencing, transcriptomics and proteomic analysis.

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