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Unit History

The Institute of Surgical Research, originally named the Surgical Research Unit was established in 1943 to evaluate the role of the newly discovered antibiotics in the treatment of war wounds. The unit was stationed at Halloran General Hospital, Staten Island, New York. The Institute became a permanent unit and moved to Brooke General Hospital, Brooke Army Medical Center, Fort Sam Houston, Texas in 1947, and had assigned 12 personnel.

In addition to the study of antibiotics, the unit was also charged with the study of innovative new surgical techniques and developments. In 1949, the unit's mission was expanded to encompass the study of thermal injury due to concern regarding the large number of possible casualties generated by nuclear weapons. The advent of improved grafting procedures and continued use of antibiotics in new applications grew with this mission. In May 1953, the unit became a Class II activity of the Surgeon General. The unit was assigned to Headquarters, United States Army Medical Research and Development Command in September of 1958.

Research flourished, with the Institute evaluating the use of plasma extenders, grafting and preservation of blood vessels, and the use of an “artificial kidney”, among other forward thinking medical research initiatives. As the “Army's Burn Unit,” this unit has served as a prototype and model for burn units all over the world. During this time, it was also a premier dialysis research center serving South Central Texas and neighboring states.

As part of the Army Medical Department reorganization in March 1994, the Institute became a subordinate command of the Medical Research and Materiel Command, itself a major subordinate command of the newly formed Medical Command (MEDCOM), and in 1996, the Institute moved to its current location adjacent to the newly constructed Brooke Army Medical Center. At this time the research focus of the mission changed from thermal injury to the full spectrum of combat casualty care.

The Institute of Surgical Research is a highly decorated and celebrated unit. The Institute has been involved in humanitarian missions to foreign countries such as the USSR in 1989, Guam in 1997 and Honduras from 1999 to present. The unit utilized its expertise by caring for burn casualties from every conflict since WWII to the present Operation Iraqi Freedom, including the 1979 Marine Base fire in Camp Fuji, the 1983 bombing in Beirut, and the Pope AFB paratroopers plane crash in 1994 as well as dozens of other medical emergencies.

The Army Superior Unit Award was awarded to ISR for outstanding meritorious conduct in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom during the period of 13 January 2003 to 31 December 2004. This citation recognizes the Institute for:

  • Burn and vesicant training of over 1,369 personnel.
  • Coordination with the American Burn Association for the identification of available burn beds throughout the United States.
  • Providing a burn liaison officer with the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in the theater of operation.
  • Expanding the 24-bed burn center to 40 beds while maintaining the peace time mission.
  • Providing burn-special medical augmentation response teams with no notice to evacuate patients from the Federal Republic of Germany.

ISR also deployed combat casualty care research products provided to the soldiers in the theater of operations including:

  • Special Medical Emergency Evacuation Device (SMEED)
  • One-handed tourniquet
  • Fibrin sealant
  • Chitosan Dressing

The Institute has grown from a 12 person staff to over 250 military and civilian personnel. It continues to serve as the primary Combat Casualty Care research facility for the Army. While continuing its excellence in the field of burn care management, the Institute has expanded and placed equal emphasis in providing medical solutions for the injured soldier in the on the battlefield.

As a result of the 2005 BRAC the Battlefield Health and Trauma Research Institute (BHT) was formed. A new building was constructed adjacent to Brooke Army Medical Center (BAMC) and connected to the US Army Institute of Surgical Research (USAISR) building permitting all Department of Defense (DoD) combat casualty care research (minus neuroprotection) to be co-located with the USAISR.

The following activities were added to the BHT:

  • The Naval Medical Research Unit, San Antonio (NAMRU-SA), received the combat casualty care research sub-function of the Naval Medical Research Center from Forest Glen, MD., and the Naval Institute for Dental and Biomedical Research from Great Lakes, IL.
  • The US Air Force Dental Evaluation and Consultation Service (DECS) from Great Lakes IL.
  • In addition the combat casualty care research sub-function of Walter Reed Army Institute of Research from Forest Glen, MD, the Army Medical Research Detachment from Brooks City-Base, TX, and the Army Dental Trauma and Research Detachment from Forest Glen, MD were added to the USAISR.

With the arrival of these units in San Antonio, the Battlefield Health and Trauma Research Institute (BHT) became a reality.