The United States Army Institute of Surgical Research (USAISR), located at Joint Base San Antonio–Fort Sam Houston, is the U. S. Army’s main “Combat Casualty Care” research facility.
USAISR traces its beginning to the army’s Surgical Research Unit, which was established in 1943 at Halloran General Hospital in Staten Island, New York. The unit researched the use of antibiotics, specifically penicillin, in treating burn injuries and war wounds.
In 1947 the Surgical Research Unit was moved to San Antonio, and its research was expanded to include new surgical techniques in addition to antibiotics. The unit was located in Brooke General Hospital (later Brooke Army Medical Center) at Fort Sam Houston.
In 1949, with the potential of nuclear war looming, the institute began studying the effects of thermal injury on the body and began to develop treatments based on new grafting procedures. That same year a burn unit was established as the “first and [still] only DoD [Department of Defense] burn center.”
From 1953 to 1958 the institute pioneered the development of “plasma extenders, grafting and preservation of blood vessels, and the use of an ‘artificial kidney.’”
The Surgical Research Unit was assigned to the U. S. Army Medical Research and Development Command in 1958.
In 1970 the facility was renamed the United States Army Institute of Surgical Research.
The USAISR has both clinical and laboratory divisions working in tandem to develop new techniques for treating severe burns, with the majority of patients exhibiting burns of up to 40 percent of their bodies.
The “burn patient,” according to Col. Basil A. Pruitt, Jr., commander of the USAISR from 1968 to 1996, acted as a “universal trauma model” for all injured soldiers. The institute has served as a care facility for burn victims in many international wars and disasters: in 1989 it was involved in a humanitarian mission to the Soviet Union; in 1997, to Guam; and it has been in Honduras since 1999.
The USAISR has treated burn injuries in every conflict since World War II through the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and it has also served as a prototype for burn units all over the world.
The ISR Burn Flight Team is comprised of personnel who are prepared to transport and care for military and civilian burn patients worldwide. Additionally, the burn unit also serves as a regional burn center for twenty-two counties in South Texas. The institute also provides education for civilian and military medical and post-graduate students.
In 1994 the USAISR became a subordinate command of the Medical Research and Material Command of the U. S. Army. The institute moved to a new facility adjacent to the new Brooke Army Medical Center in 1996, and its research focus changed from thermal injuries to “the full spectrum of combat casualty care.”
In the early twenty-first century research at the institute has also gone towards the development of: cold-stored platelets, freeze-dried plasma, combat gauze, a burn shock detection device, a combat application tourniquet, a junctional tourniquet, and a flame-resistant army combat shirt, and other innovations.
In 2010, as a result of base consolidations, the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research and the Army Medical Research Detachment were integrated into the USAISR, as well as the Army Dental and Trauma Research Detachment. As a result, the institute has grown from an original staff of twelve people in 1943 to more than 700 military and civilian personnel in the 2020s.
The Battlefield Health and Trauma Research Institute also was established as a result of base realignments and closures, leading to the construction of a new building “permitting all Department of Defense (DoD) combat casualty care research (minus neuroprotection) to be co-located with the USAISR.”
Throughout the USAISR’s history, its research has grown from studying antibiotics to developing new grafting procedures to treating thermal injuries from nuclear radiation, as well as expanding to address a panoply of combat injuries. The unit has served as an example for other burn treatment centers around the world, and its humanitarian missions have been integral to the treatment of burn victims in many international conflicts and emergencies.
Institute of Surgical Research
3698 Chambers Pass Suite B
JBSA Ft. Sam Houston, TX 78234-7767