- Associated Press - Saturday, February 20, 2016

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) - For more than a decade, the University of Iowa’s virtual soldier program has partnered with the U.S. military to create simulations to predict whether heavy equipment would impede a service member’s ability to perform a specific task.

Iowa City Press-Citizen (http://icp-c.com/21b2IBg ) reports that a new $2.6 million grant from the Office of Naval Research will help UI researchers develop a program to predict whether performing those tasks repeatedly would lead to injury or permanent disability.

“For the past few years, the U.S. Marines have identified that a substantial amount of injuries have occurred,” said Karim Abdel-Malek, professor of biomedical and mechanical engineering and principal investigator on the project. “Specifically in ‘06, they listed that 1.95 million injuries were sustained in one year - all on muscle and skeleton injuries,”

Abdel-Malek referred to the problem of injuries as a “hidden epidemic” within the military - with disability compensation for injuries alone exceeding $750 million per year.

The new project is a collaboration among UI’s College of Engineering and the departments of athletics and physiology. Using UI’s virtual human models, Santos and Sophia, the program would create simulations that match a Marine’s characteristics - such as height, weight, strength and aerobic capacity. The simulations would then show how that Marine would hold up, over time, in various training environments.

“Both in athletics and in military settings, it’s not just young males that are involved in these activities,” said Kevin Kregel, UI professor of human physiology. “It’s males and females. It’s different ages, different body types, different activity levels. . It’s a pretty complex process because we are trying to get down to the individual and to groups of individuals or profiling large segments of the population.”

With all that information in place, the researchers then hope the program will provide an individualized strength and conditioning program to help Marines recover from such injuries or - better yet - avoid them in the first place.

“At the end of the day, athletics and the military all try to perform at extremely high levels,” said Landon Evans, an assistant strength and conditioning coach for UI.

The focus on predicting injuries builds on more than a decade’s worth previous partnerships between the U.S. military and the UI Virtual Solider Research Program. Most recently, the UI team used Santos and Sophia to develop a software system by which the U.S. Marines would be run accurate simulations of how individual soldiers would be able to perform while being weighed down by different types of weaponry and other equipment.

Since developed by Abdel-Malek and his team in 2003, the Santos program has attracted partnerships with the U.S. military and private industry.

Counting the new grant, the program has generated $38 million in external research funding for UI.

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Information from: Iowa City Press-Citizen, http://www.press-citizen.com/

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