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Science takes aim at battlefield injury in massive project grant


April 22, 2008

The University of Pittsburgh's McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine has been selected as one of the leaders of a national $85 million program to use the science of regenerative medicine to develop new treatments for wounded soldiers.

A new federally funded institution – the Armed Forces Institute of Regenerative Medicine (AFIRM) – will be made up of the U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research and consortia involving one team led by McGowan and the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine in Winston-Salem, N.C ., and another led by Rutgers University, New Brunswick, N.J ., and the Cleveland Clinic. Each group was awarded $42.5 million. The McGowan-Wake Forest team includes collaborators from 15 other institutions.

AFIRM will be co-directed by Alan J. Russell, Ph.D ., director of the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine, and Anthony Atala, M.D ., director of the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine. The massive project will be dedicated to repairing battlefield injuries through the use of regenerative medicine science that takes advantage of the body's natural healing powers to restore or replace damaged tissue and organs. Therapies developed by AFIRM also will benefit people in the civilian population with burns or severe trauma due to illness or injury.

“For the first time in the history of regenerative medicine, we have the opportunity to bring transformational technologies to wounded soldiers, and to do so in partnership with the armed services,” said Dr. Russell. “This field of science has the potential to significantly impact our ability to successfully treat major trauma.”

The McGowan team has committed to develop clinical therapies over the next five years that will focus on:

• Burn repair

• Wound healing without scarring

• Craniofacial reconstruction

• Limb reconstruction, regeneration or transplantation

• Compartment syndrome, a condition related to inflammation after surgery or injury that can lead to increased pressure, impaired blood flow, nerve damage and muscle death

AFIRM will have multiple research teams working in each area. For example, in the area of burns, researchers will pursue treatments including engineered skin products, bio-printing of skin in the field and repairs using stem cells derived from amniotic fluid.

Dr. Russell notes that the team's ability to deliver 11 new treatments is based on a four-year history of working in partnership with the U.S. Department of Defense on regenerative medicine projects.

“Our goal is to use our position as the international leader in developing restorative therapies for battlefield trauma to improve the outcomes for our wounded,” added Dr. Russell, who is founding president of the Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicine International Society. “Our ability to provide these treatments is in part due to our team's long experience in this field and our broad pipeline of technologies.”

Twenty-nine McGowan research teams in Pittsburgh will be joined by 16 at Wake Forest and 33 more research teams at 15 other institutions and companies focusing on regenerative medicine. Several treatments developed are now being evaluated in patients. More than 50 technologies from these researchers already have had an impact on treatments for illness and injury.

Researchers associated with McGowan have launched more than 10 clinical trials (three with the Army) using tissue-engineered products that have now been implanted in more than 1 million patients.

Collaborators and subcontractors for the McGowan-Wake Forest team include Allegheny Singer Research Institute; the California Institute of Technology; Carnegie Mellon University; the Georgia Institute of Technology; the U.S. Army Institute for Collaborative Biotechnologies; Intercytex Group, Plc; Organogenesis Inc .; Oregon Biomedical Engineering Institute; the Pittsburgh Tissue Engineering Initiative Inc .; Providence Health System; Rice University; Stanford University; Tufts University; the University of California, Santa Barbara; and Vanderbilt University.

Government sponsors of AFIRM are the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command, the Office of Naval Research, the U.S. Air Force and the National Institutes of Health. In addition to the announced government funding, the universities and the other partners will provide more than $180 million from academic institutions, industry and state and federal agencies for the projects – for a total of more than $250 million available for soldier regeneration research.


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