Battlefield to Bench


10-Year Member
Jun 9, 2006
An article in The Harvard Crimson which details biomedical research that was initiated through the experience of an Army Reservist in Afghanistan who also happens to be working on a post-doc.

From the Battlefield to the Bench
Crimson Staff Writer

When he heard on the radio that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center, he immediately knew that it was no accident. By the time he arrived at the lab and the second plane had hit, the Army reservist knew that the country would be going to war. And by the end of the day, the Tennessee native decided that he would do whatever it took to defend his country.

Parker would soon make the decision to switch units within the Army Reserves in order to ensure that he would see immediate action in Afghanistan.

After shipping off in 2002, the 36-year-old biomedical engineer’s academic life would be forever changed as he saw the gruesome sights of the battlefield.

Since returning in 2003, Parker—as well as his colleagues in Pierce Hall—have tailored research to create treatments for war-related injuries.

“You can’t go over there and see someone step on a land mine and then come back here and work on your own problems,” Parker said. “You say, ‘I have to do whatever I can for the guys who are still back there.’”

Despite the looming threat of being called back to serve—Parker said he joined the reserves knowing that “it’s about the sacrifice”—he talks about the transition from the frontline to the lab in an upbeat tone.

“The war didn’t stop, I just changed my toolset,” Parker joked while sitting in his office with the lights off, classical music playing in the background. “I’m tenure track at Harvard, which is in many ways a more precarious position than being on the Pakistani border.”


A specialist in tissue engineering with an emphasis on designing heart tissue, Parker said he hopes to use his expertise to find ways to save soldiers suffering from severe brain trauma.

When an IED explodes next to an armored vehicle in Iraq or Afghanistan, the shock from the blast can cause severe brain injuries to soldiers in the immediate vicinity, even if they are in armored vehicles.

Parker said that as an outsider to the field of brain trauma, he may be able to bring new insights to the treatment of severe brain injuries.

He has won a one year grant from the Department of Defense, and is working with some students in his lab to simulate, through cells in a Petri dish, the traumatic cell damage caused by a nearby explosion.

“You’d have to live in a cave out in the woods to separate yourself from what military-driven technological innovation has provided this country,” Parker says. “If you take a look at the cutting edge of science in any particular field, you’ll find DOD-sponsored research projects there.”

The article also discusses other relevant research that is being done as well as the implications of doing war-related research.