Low Tech, High Praise: USAMRDC'S Body Cooling System Scores Prestigious Award
Like all good inventions, the idea came first — a single "light bulb" moment — and everything else just snowballed from there. For the U.S. Army Medical Research and Development Command team responsible for developing the Body Cooling System, that moment came during a site visit to Fort Benning, Georgia, during a particularly steamy summer in 2008.
"We just had this realization there's a technology gap here," says Lt. Col. David DeGroot, a former USAMRDC research physiologist who, after attending that site visit, developed the first iteration of the BCS — which is, in short, a cold water bath for your hands and forearms. "We needed an easy, low-tech, low-maintenance, but effective way to provide active cooling to Soldiers."
Now, after more than a decade of refinement and revision, the BCS is ready for its moment in the sun. On November 10, USAMRDC will be honored with the Excellence in Technology Award from the Mid-Atlantic Region of the Federal Laboratory Consortium for Technology Transfer. The award is designed to highlight technology transfer professionals working with inventors and commercial partners to field products for both the Warfighter and civilians.
Based upon the concept of "immersion cooling," the BCS is essentially a shallow standing water basin that allows Soldiers to submerge their hands and forearms in an effort to reduce core body temperature. Research shows that such immersion efforts can help reduce core readings by almost two degrees Fahrenheit in ten minutes (depending on the temperature of the water, of course), which could ultimately help minimize heat-related illness. Standing about waist-high and measuring around five-feet long by two-feet wide, the BCS can accommodate several Soldiers at once on either side.
"If we can cool off the skin, that cooling will — via the blood — be transferred to the core, and that's how core temperature is reduced," says DeGroot in describing the product's effectiveness. DeGroot was stationed at USAMRDC's U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine when he first developed the BCS and now serves — ironically, in a way — at the Martin Army Community Hospital at Fort Benning. "The fact that it's so low-tech," he says of the BCS, "is the reason why it's been so successful."
A good chunk of that success derives from the work performed at USAMRDC's Office of Research and Technology Applications Medical Technology Transfer office — which is, again, the focus of the FLC award.
"What we do at the Medical Technology Transfer office is work with our intellectual property lawyers to file patents on internally-developed inventions that can then be licensed to industry," says Ronald Marchessault, a senior technology transfer professional, in describing the role and value of the office to the product lifecycle. "We try to determine if the technology itself has commercial value and if it has potential patent protection — if it's novel, useful, and nonobvious enough to get a patent."
The BCS certainly met that threshold, as it was awarded a patent from the federal government back in 2018. But the process that leads to full-fledged commercial licensure is a separate and far more involved effort.
For the BCS, what started with DeGroot's sweat equity in building the original prototype eventually led to the product's hand-off to the Medical Technology Transfer office, where Marchessault and his team made a number of improvements over the years — eventually sending revised prototype units to Army facilities across the globe for feedback — before beginning the search for a potential licensing partner. That effort gained traction just last year when the Medical Technology Transfer office signed a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement with CrowdRx, a private company providing medical services to large-scale outdoor events like concerts and festivals. Following the successful testing of the device at events like the annual Burning Man festival in northern Nevada, the BCS was finally licensed to First Line Technology less than one month ago.
"It's truly a team effort," says Marchessault, noting how each separate organization within the USAMRDC pushed the BCS along the licensing path in its own unique way. "To license a technology like this gives it more value from a commercial perspective."
Says DeGroot of the effort, "We couldn’t have done this without the tech transfer office."
It’s the kind of effort that, ultimately, showcases the enduring value and benefit of both internal and external partnerships. Marchessault notes the BCS has a number of potential extra-military applications as well; specifically for firefighters and overheated road construction crews. To that end, DeGroot says he’s heard of more than a thousand variants of the BCS in existence at military installations across the country – from people using cattle feed troughs to old beach coolers. Now, thanks to the Medical Technology Transfer office, he knows where to send people when only the original version will suffice.
Says DeGroot,"Ultimately, when units tell me they want this solution, now I can tell them where to go buy it from."