Solving health crises for a better world

Since high school, Bradley Kearney always knew he would study and find a career in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). The former biochemistry student does just that for the United States military.

Kearney came to NC State as a chemical engineering student, but changed his specialization after taking an introductory biochemistry course. He obtained his Bachelor of Science in Biochemistry in 2008, followed by a Doctorate in Biochemistry in 2012.

Kearney joined the Army in 2016 and now serves as a medical planner in the US Army Surgeon’s Office in Japan. Essentially, it works to provide the best possible health care system to support all military operations.

He and his team, like many in the healthcare industry, have spent their time battling COVID-19. Their efforts earned them the Army Wolf Pack Award – an award that recognizes integrated teams of military and civilian members who work to solve complex health issues for the Department of Defense (DoD).

Tell us how you and your team came to receive this honor.

When the COVID-19 pandemic began, mainland Japan’s main laboratory predicted it would take six months for testing to go live. No lab met all the requirements for COVID-19 clinical testing. Some labs, like the public health lab that I ran, had experienced staff but lacked proper clinical accreditation. Other certified and equipped laboratories lacked personnel for sustained operations. We envisioned a small team of lab experts who would come together in an upgraded lab to meet DoD testing requirements in Japan.

By bringing together equipment and experts on the same site, we were able to be operational in a few days instead of a few weeks. By having clinical trials in our medical toolkit, our public health experts could stay ahead of the curve and keep COVID-19 infection levels extremely low for the DoD community in Japan. Our efforts and teamwork have had such an impact that the US Army Surgeon General selected us for the Wolf Pack Award.

Brad Kearney (center) accepts the Army Wolf Pack Award.

Why NC State and biochemistry?

I chose NC State because of its strong history of innovative research and translating that research into making a difference in the world. By definition, biochemistry is the branch of science concerned with the chemical and physicochemical processes and substances that occur in living organisms. By better understanding the chemistry of life, we can understand what causes diseases such as cancer and diabetes. With this understanding, we can work on treatments to improve quality of life.

What drives you?

I am motivated by taking my scientific background and applying it to a variety of problems. I’ve found that having a group of people from diverse backgrounds is the best way to solve big problems, and I bring my science and engineering knowledge to the table. I also like leading teams of scientists.

Prior to working as a medical planner, I was a laboratory director at the US Army Public Health Command-Pacific. There is a special kind of pride and joy in helping others grow and prosper in their careers, both as soldiers and as scientists. I now know why my mentors decided to become professors and lead research groups.

A mentor you admired at NC State?

I have had many great mentors at NC State including Dr Charles Hardin, Dr Dennis Brown, Dr Greg Buhrman, Dr Paul Swartz, Dr John Mertz, and my PhD supervisor Dr Carla Mattos, but I would say my best mentor was Dr Avis Sylvia. I took Dr. Sylvia’s Principles of Biochemistry course in the fall of 2004, while still studying chemical engineering.

Most of the people I knew who had taken the course warned me that it was the most difficult course they had taken. They were right. Even though many of us struggled, Dr. Sylvia never stopped pushing us all to do our best. I passed the course, but I still remember feeling like I was barely keeping my head above water. I spent the next year in a study abroad program in Japan and when I returned I was back in his class trying to do better.

On the first day of class in 2006, I was in the second row and she called me by the nickname she gave me the first time I took her class. “What are you doing here, Red?” You haven’t already passed this course? I replied, “I did it, but I’m not happy with what I did, so I’m back for another round.” She smiled at it and said, “Now you are a keeper. “

I remember talking to him regularly during my first year of graduate school, and I remember how our scientific discussions evolved when I started to study structural biology in depth. Dr. Sylvia retired from the department the same year I began my graduate studies. Although Dr Mattos made me the scientist I am today, Dr Sylvia gave me that first boost that made me think of biochemistry as something more than a morning class.

About Geraldine Higgins

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