Texas Medical Center

UTMB-Galveston to Manage Medical Operations in Antarctica

Scott Parazynski, M.D


By Maureen Balleza  |  UTMB-Galveston

The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston has been selected to manage medical operations for the United States’ Antarctic Program. UTMB will be working for the National Science Foundation as a subcontractor for Lockheed Martin’s Antarctic Support Contract.

“This is a tremendous opportunity for UTMB,” said David Callender, M.D., president of UTMB. “We are no strangers to the ice, having operated there for the last decade, providing critical medical support on occasion. This new agreement represents an expansion of the work we’re already doing.”

UTMB has been providing telemedicine services for the United States’ Antarctic Program for more than a decade for the previous contractor. Under the agreement with Lockheed Martin, UTMB will establish a Center for Polar Medical Operations in Galveston to manage health services at the three stations operated by the U.S. – McMurdo Station, Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station and Palmer Station – as well as numerous seasonal field camps and two marine research vessels operated year round.

Each of the polar stations has a physician, and McMurdo has the equivalent of a Level 4 urgent care center that can provide radiology and laboratory work, and is staffed by an emergency medical technician or physician’s assistant and a lab technician.

Scott Parazynski, M.D., former NASA astronaut, has been named chief medical officer for UTMB’s new Center for Polar Medical Operations that will manage health services at the three U.S. stations.

“Antarctica is the most remote and extreme place on earth to live and work,” said Parazynski. “It’s our responsibility and privilege to assure that those who are traveling there are physically up to the challenge and have the medical support they need once they get there.”
In addition to providing medical staff, equipment and supplies in Anarctica, UTMB will also manage the required medical screenings of the roughly 3,000 people who work at U.S. stations in the Antarctic each year. Another 300 people who “winter over” at the bottom of the world, when weather conditions and continuous darkness make travel impossible, also require psychological evaluations.

The National Science Foundation, an independent U.S. government agency, manages the U.S. Antarctic Program, through which it coordinates all U.S. scientific research on the southernmost continent and aboard ships in the Southern Ocean as well as related logistics support. Antarctica’s remoteness and extreme climate make it a unique “natural laboratory” and even an analog for conditions on other planets.
The National Science Foundation selected Lockheed Martin to operate and maintain the support infrastructure for the U.S. Antarctic Program, which enables universities, research institutions and federal agencies to conduct scientific research in the region.

The multi-year contract is worth up to $2 billion for Lockheed Martin if all options are exercised. UTMB’s contract runs through September 2016 with options to renew in two-year increments through March 2025. If all options are exercised, the university could realize $60 million.