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AFRL Biotech Days Summit unites scientific community

  • Published
  • By Whitney Wetsig
  • Air Force Research Laboratory

Air Force Research Laboratory, or AFRL, scientists and engineers met with strategic partners from the Department of Defense, other U.S. government agencies, academia, industry and state organizations to share progress and collaborate at the third AFRL Biotech Days Summit Feb. 27-28, 2024, at Wright-State University in Dayton, Ohio.

The two-day event included presentations highlighting the lab's early- to mid-stage technologies, and featured demonstrations, a poster session and various keynote speakers. More than 275 people attended the summit, which has tripled in size since the first gathering in 2020. Approximately 100 more people tuned in virtually.

“Biotech is being used to save lives and to increase the health and welfare of people," said Dr. Seth A. Faith, senior scientist for biotechnology and biomedical sciences, AFRL’s 711th Human Performance Wing, Human Effectiveness Directorate. “Here on the DOD side, we need to see how we can best leverage that technology. How do we use this to save lives and to deter future conflict? That's the exciting part for us right now. Biotech is exploding and it's our job to figure out how to align it to military success."

Faith said biotech is a tool or process for producing capabilities or solving problems in ways that are superior to previous methods. As he delivered opening remarks, Faith highlighted previous biotechnology successes from the AFRL portfolio that enhanced pilot performance and encouraged teams to use the summit to advance current projects.

"Grow your teams. Have good ideas. Let’s move AFRL biotechnology forward," Faith said.

The event served as a forum for the larger biotechnology community to connect with AFRL researchers. Teams showcased various efforts including en route care research, infectious disease surveillance initiatives, biomanufacturing, biomaterials, research on natural flying systems and BioCement. Several leaders also discussed the direction of the DOD biotechnology portfolio and answered questions from the audience in a fireside chat.

“The goal of this interaction is to grow the community as a whole, from bench-level scientists through leadership and across the different AFRL mission units,” said Dr. Jill McQuade, senior research physiologist, AFRL’s 711th Human Performance Wing, Human Effectiveness Directorate. “It’s about giving scientists the opportunity to hear from leadership about the big picture and inspiring them by highlighting how their work contributes and fits into the larger mission.”

The event aims to bring researchers together, stimulating future collaboration and scientific advancement, McQuade said.

“Everything we do in the lab has to continue to build and move forward,” McQuade said. “It's not only determining what can we accomplish in the lab, but it's about developing plans on how to take it out of the lab and build it into something bigger. Partnerships are so important.”

Dr. Mike Goodson, a research biologist from the AFRL’s 711th Human Performance Wing, presented his research on submariners and gut biomes during the poster session, interacting with colleagues from other service labs including the Naval Research Lab.

“I really enjoy the networking opportunity that Biotech Days provides,” Goodson said. “The poster session allowed us to really get into the nuts and bolts of our work with colleagues from AFRL, the other service labs and other government agencies. The feedback was really helpful, and hopefully, we spurred some ideas in the people that stopped by too.”

Attendees included representatives from Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense, or OUSD, Defense Intelligence Agency, U.S. Army and U.S. Navy. Personnel from JobsOhio and Ohio Life Sciences also participated in the event. 

At the DOD level, the event enabled AFRL to link with White House Administration goals and priorities for biomanufacturing and bioeconomy. Speakers and panelists including Dr. Kate Sixt, OUSD for Research and Engineering, Biotechnology; Dr. Peter Emanuel, U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command; Dr. Nancy Kelley-Loughnane, AFRL; and Dr. Angela Campo, AFRL, BioMADE, discussed the five-year plan for the DOD Biomanufacturing Strategy.

“AFRL is a key component for executing the strategy along with our tri-service partners, industry and academia,” Faith said.

The event was organized by AFRL's Biotechnology Community of Practice, an organization established in 2019 to bring together mission units from across the AFRL enterprise, including the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, Aerospace Systems Directorate, Materials and Manufacturing Directorate, the 711th Human Performance Wing, and other Department of the Air Force entities including the National Air and Space Intel Center.

“We can do so much more when we collaborate,” said Dr. Tim Bunning, AFRL Chief Technology Officer. “We can do so much more within AFRL when we work across the technology directorates, and we can do so much more at the OSD level when we work across the services.”

Communication is critical to finding the right partners to successfully develop and transition technology, Faith said, an assertion echoed by several speakers.

“Days like this are a big part of the solution,” said Dr. Tanisha Hammill, Air Force Medical Service chief scientist. “Having the ability to bring together stakeholders from across the lifecycle of research and development and from industry and academia is one piece as we navigate this complex DOD ecosystem.”

About AFRL   

The Air Force Research Laboratory is the primary scientific research and development center for the Department of the Air Force. AFRL plays an integral role in leading the discovery, development and integration of affordable warfighting technologies for our air, space and cyberspace force. With a workforce of more than 12,500 across nine technology areas and 40 other operations across the globe, AFRL provides a diverse portfolio of science and technology ranging from fundamental to advanced research and technology development – as well as aerospace and operational medicine. For more information, visit afresearchlab.com.