The U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Chemical Defense officially opened its Collaborative Research Facility July 17 and dedicated the building to Dr. Brennie E. Hackley, Jr., who served as the institute's chief scientist and scientific advisor from 1984 until his death in 2006.
The CRF is a multimillion-dollar 6,800 square-foot research facility designed to serve as a venue to support collaboration with entities external to the MRICD, including research partners in industry, academia, and government. The CRF makes it possible for these extramural researchers to conduct collaborative experiments using dilute chemical threat agents.
During the ribbon cutting ceremonies, MRICD's commander, Col. Harry F. Slife, Jr., described how a building once used to house goats became the institute's newest research asset. In the post-911 era, he explained, scientists from a variety of venues became interested in the medical chemical defense research program, but were limited in the types of studies they could conduct because of restrictions and regulatory requirements concerning the use of chemical threat agents. Many saw collaboration with MRICD scientists, who could conduct the agent portion of the studies, as the solution.
As a result, Slife said, "Investigators at this institute found themselves inundated with collaborative requests from outside agencies and sister laboratories within MRMC. These collaborations required a significant time investment on ICD investigators, taking them away from their own research projects to oversee agent use activities for these collaborative efforts."
In 2002, MRICD started looking for a solution; the result was a recommendation to dedicate separate resources for collaborative studies rather than to use internal resources. The idea of a collaborative research facility was born. Now the question was, how does this idea become a reality? Discussions began with the National Institutes of Health and Dr. Ernest Takafuji, director for Biodefense Research at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), NIH, Bethesda, Md., as well as a former commander of the MRICD.
"[Takafuji's] unique perspective, having served here at the institute while in uniform, coupled with his responsibilities at NIAID allowed him to appreciate the potential value for this facility and how it could provide a needed nitch for the program," said Slife.
According to Takafuji, Congress, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Health and Human Services all recognized the need for collaboration in research. But, Takafuji continued, NIH resources could not be the sole solution; much of the expertise and experience, especially when it came to research on radiation and chemical and biological agents, were in DoD.
The challenge lay in figuring out how to bring together various government departments, each with its own culture, to get them thinking along the lines of collaboration, and to convince them to financially support the creation of such a facility in an era of tight budgets. Not even moving the money from one department to another, explained Takafuji, was an easy task.
Despite these challenges, all the departments involved, through the highest levels of the federal government, recognized that a dedicated facility was, said Takafuji, "in the best interest of the nation."
In these coordinating efforts, Takafuji worked closely with Dr. Gennady E. Platoff, Jr., Office of Biodefense Research at NIAID, and a former commander of MRICD as well.
The resulting facility is the culmination of their efforts, as well as of the hard work of several young officers at MRICD who managed the project for the institute, and the efforts of MRICD facilities manager, Denise Hott. Most notably among the series of MRICD managers is LTC Maurice Sipos, who as a captain recommended the solution of a separate facility to accommodate collaborative efforts and who during subsequent assignments at MRICD worked on various stages of the project. He is now chief of MRICD's Research Division in which the Collaborative Research Facility Branch is a part.
"The CRF stands ready to provide a venue for scientists to participate in a program they might never had had the opportunity otherwise due to regulatory restrictions, budget limitations, or the lack of program or administrative tools," said Slife at the ribbon cutting.
Following the ribbon cutting, came the building's dedication.
It was fitting, said Slife, that the CRF, which was created so that the institute could "reach out to a greater population of contributors" should be dedicated to Dr. Brennie E. Hackley, Jr., whose dream it was "to reach out, to interact with an international community" and who was so well respected in that international community.
That respect grew out of his long career in federal service and his own important contributions to the medical chemical defense research program. After receiving a B.S. in chemistry from Wilberforce University, Hackley enlisted in the Army and was later commissioned in the Army Officer Corps. Hackley retired from the Army Reserves at the rank of colonel after 30 years. His civilian career began in the Medicinal Chemistry Branch of the Army Chemical Command in 1950. In 1954 he earned an M.S. and in 1957 a Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of Delaware.
Among Hackley's significant contributions to the medical chemical defense program, noted Slife, was his exploration and synthesis of a number of oximes. Even today, MRICD scientists are exploring this "library of oximes" in efforts to field alternative therapeutic measures for exposure to chemical warfare nerve agents. Hackley's vast experience and historical knowledge of the program also made him an invaluable resource when it came to new projects. He could always be counted on "to attest to what was done in that area previously and to steer us in the right direction," said Slife.
"Dr. Hackley continues to influence the work here every day," concluded Slife. "He is sorely missed not only for his scientific expertise but because of his camaraderie and his friendship."
As a former MRICD commander, Takafuji also had first-hand experience with Hackley's knowledge and expertise.
"It was really a tremendous pleasure for me to hear that a decision had been made to dedicate this building in the honor of my very dear friend and collaborator, Dr. Brennie Hackley," said Takafuji. "It's not just a building. What it represents is an effort and a commitment that people like Brennie had."
Among the Hackley family present at the ceremony were his widow, Ethel, his daughter, Michele Johnson, his son Brennie III, two of his grandchildren, Brandon and Erin Johnson, and his sisters, Frances Hackley, Kathleen Petty, and Oglivia Abernathy with her husband, Thomas. The Hackleys also have another son, Michael, who was not able to attend the event.
Speaking on behalf of her mother and the rest of the family, Johnson addressed the guests, "We are so grateful and thank you very much for this wonderful honor that you've bestowed upon us and my dad. He, to the end, loved the people that were here, the intellectual stimulation, the opportunity to mentor, the opportunity to make an impact in people's lives in small and large ways, and this is very gratifying to the family to realize that sometimes good efforts and moral efforts are rewarded. Good luck with this facility, which is sorely needed to merge government, industry, and academia."
After the ceremony, the Hackley family and guests were invited to tour the new facility.