$75 million allotted to develop treatment of battlefield injuries

Pitt, UPMC joint effort to research tissue regeneration

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The McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine will co-direct a $75 million, five-year project nationwide to continue developing tissue-engineering techniques to treat battlefield injuries.

The U.S. Department of Defense announced phase two funding for the Armed Forces Institute for Regenerative Medicine -- a consortium of more than 30 academic centers researching methods to reconstruct the face and cranium, transplant or replace limbs, repair damaged muscle and tissue, and treat skin damage and burns. Soldiers injured from improvised explosive devices in Afghanistan have heightened the need for new methods to repair serious genital, rectal and colon injuries.

Tissue engineering generally describes methods used to repair or regenerate tissue to restore body function for those who have lost limbs or suffered serious, disabling wounds and disfigurement. More than 50,000 troops have suffered wounds in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, with nearly 8,200 deaths.

AFIRM will use the grant money to fund about 60 research projects nationwide with $5 to $10 million likely headed to seven projects underway at McGowan, said Rocky Tuan, McGowan associate director and founding director of the Center for Military Medicine Research at the University of Pittsburgh. He serves as AFIRM's co-director, with Anthony Atala, director of the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine, serving as AFIRM director.

"A lot of hard work went into putting the project together, and the commitment from the Department of Defense has been unwavering," Mr. Tuan said. "The announcement to continue with AFIRM came in the face of really tough financial times and federal budget battles. The DOD has stood firm in recognizing the importances of the project for wounded warriors."

McGowan Institute, a joint effort between Pitt and UPMC, will use new funding for ongoing research to develop ways to heal wounds and burns; develop a computer-controlled spray gun to spread adult stem cells atop burns to advance recovery; use tissue matrices to regenerate skin and other tissue to heal wounds; improve a drug to help stem cells penetrate wounds and prevent scarring; and continue research in regenerating ligaments, tendons and joints, Mr. Tuan said.

McGowan already has received wide publicity for its successful hand transplants. "The results have been spectacular but they are very complicated procedures," Mr. Tuan said, adding that the institute is using adult stem cells to help prevent rejection of such transplants.

Funded projects will face tight deadlines to show proven results or face the loss of funding.

"This is not knowledge for knowledge's sake," Mr. Tuan said. "We need deliverables, which is somewhat foreign to academic investigators." When it comes to funding, he said, "We will weed and seed."

Human clinical trials likely will be conducted at military hospitals.

"When warriors come back from the battlefield with serious, life-changing injuries, it is our job to find new and innovative ways to help them," stated Maj. Gen. Joseph Carvalho Jr., commanding general of the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command at Fort Detrick, Md., according to a Pitt news release. "The science of regenerative medicine is one of the ways we fulfill our promise to service members who put themselves in harm's way, that we will work our hardest and do our very best to take care of them."

AFIRM funding began in 2008, resulting in advances in face transplantation, minimally invasive surgery for craniofacial injuries, scar reduction treatments, fat grafting for reconstructive surgery and new treatments for burns.

"We've accomplished a great deal in the first phase of this work, and we are delighted to have the opportunity to bring these innovated techniques to the clinical setting," Mr. Tuan said.

nation - health

David Templeton: dtempleton@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1578.


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