Casscells Nominated for Assistant Secretary of Defense
President George W. Bush sent to the Senate Feb. 26 his official nomination of S. Ward Casscells III, M.D., vice president for biotechnology at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, to be Assistant Secretary of Defense (Health Affairs).
The White House first announced on Feb. 22 Bush’s intention to nominate Casscells to replace William Winkenwerder Jr., M.D., who has left the Department of Defense (DoD) for a job in the private sector.
The Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs is responsible for overall supervision of the health and medical affairs of the DoD. The secretary serves as the principal advisor to the Secretary of Defense for all DoD health policies, programs and activities, and exercises oversight of all DoD health resources.
The Military Health System provides medical care for 9.2 million beneficiaries through a $39 billion health care system consisting of a worldwide network of 70 military hospitals, over 500 military health clinics, and the department’s extensive private sector health care partners. The system also operates the Uniformed Services University and its nationally recognized medical school.
“We are very proud of Dr. Casscells’ nomination by the President, as we are proud of all of his efforts that have been so very helpful to the Texas Medical Center and the citizens of Texas,” said James T. Willerson, M.D., president of the UT Health Science Center at Houston and president-elect of the Texas Heart Institute at St. Luke’s Episcopal Hospital. “Dr. Casscells is one of the most creative physician-scientists in our country today. He is a dedicated public servant and patriot who will bring his creativity, compassion and dedication to serve our men and women in uniform, our retired military, and their families.”
In June 2005, at the age of 53, Casscells was commissioned a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve Medical Corps.
Deployed to Middle East
The colonel has been deployed to both the Middle East and Asia. He returned last December from a three-month tour of duty in Iraq, where he served as a liaison to the U.S. ambassador to Iraq and the Iraqi health minister to create a protocol for health policy and medical administration in the region.
As a result of his work as the U.S. Army Medical Command’s senior medical advisor for avian influenza and pandemic influenza, he was awarded the U.S. Army’s Meritorious Service Medal. Last November, while in Iraq, he received the Joint Service Commendation Medal.
In 2004, Casscells became the first civilian to receive the General Maxwell Reid Thurman Award for his work in using new technologies, including telemedicine, to improve emergency medical care.
He is one of the principal architects of the Army’s DREAMS (Disaster Relief and Emergency Medical Services) program, which uses technology and real-time video imaging to link remote medical experts with trauma and disaster victims. It can save lives in the case of combat injuries or help reduce the severity of a flu pandemic.
Building on DREAMS is the Texas Training and Technology for Trauma and Terrorism program (T5), which seeks ideas to improve trauma care and reaction to biological threats. On the research side, it works to develop new imaging techniques and the education and training to support them. The operational component includes having teams packed and ready to go at any time.
Casscells has been responding to disasters since the Oklahoma City bombing and was one of the first American doctors to reach Phuket in the wake of the 2004 Asian tsunami.
He also is the John Edward Tyson Distinguished Professor of Medicine and a professor of cardiology at the UT Medical School at Houston. He is associate director for cardiology research at Texas Heart Institute.
He received his bachelor’s degree in biology at Yale in 1974, and he graduated from Harvard Medical School magna cum laude in 1979. He also won the Reznick Prize for his research with Nobel Laureate Bernard Lown, M.D.
Casscells completed a cardiology fellowship at Massachusetts General Hospital, which included clinical epidemiology training at the Harvard School of Public Health. He spent six years in the Cardiology Branch at the National Institutes of Health, followed by a year at Scripps Institutes of Medicine and Science in La Jolla, Calif., working under Nobel Laureate Roger Guillemin, M.D., Ph.D.
Casscells came to Houston in 1992 and served as the Levy Professor and chief of cardiology at UT Medical School and Hermann Hospital (now Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center) from 1994 to 2000. He established the President Bush Center for Cardiovascular Health in 1997.
By David R. Bates, Institutional Advancement