WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – A consortium spearheaded by the Institute for Regenerative Medicine at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center has been awarded $42.5 million over five years to co-lead one of two academic groups that will form the Armed Forces Institute of Regenerative Medicine (AFIRM).
The consortiums, working with the U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research, will use the science of regenerative medicine to develop new treatments for wounded soldiers.
The Wake Forest-led collaboration will be headed by Anthony Atala, M.D., director of the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine, and Alan J. Russell, Ph.D., director of the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh. A second consortium will be managed by Rutgers and the Cleveland Clinic.
AFIRM 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 will also benefit people in the civilian population with burns or severe trauma.
"For the first time in the history of regenerative medicine, we have the opportunity to work at a national level to bring transformational technologies to wounded soldiers, and to do so in partnership with the armed services," said Atala. "This field of science has the potential to significantly impact our ability to successfully treat major trauma."
The Wake Forest-McGowan team has committed to develop clinical therapies over the next five years that will focus on the following five areas:
- 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 groups 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.
The consortium’s ability to deliver new treatments is based on a four-year history of the McGowan and Wake Forest institutes working in partnership with the U.S. Department of Defense on regenerative medicine projects.
For example, the group is pursuing projects such as developing a product to quickly stop bleeding and engineering ear implants for surgical reconstruction. In addition, scientists have successfully grown muscle, bone and blood vessels in the laboratory with the goal of one day combining them to create more complex organs.
"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," said Russell. "Our goal is to use our position as the international leaders in developing restorative therapies for battlefield trauma to improve the outcomes for our wounded.”
The Wake Forest and McGowan partnership leverages more than 375 faculty members focusing on regenerative medicine. Several treatments developed during their existing partnership are now being evaluated in patients. More than 50 technologies from the AFIRM team already have had a wide impact on treatments for illness and injury. Researchers 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.
In addition to developing clinical treatments, AFIRM will serve as a training facility to develop experts in treating trauma with regenerative medicine, and as a resource to help the military develop tissues as needs are identified.
Collaborators for the Wake Forest-McGowan team include Allegheny Singer Research Institute, the California Institute of Technology, Carnegie Mellon University, Georgia Institute of Technology, Intercytex, North Carolina State University, Oregon Medical Laser Center at Providence St. Vincent Medical Center, Organogenesis, Pittsburgh Tissue Engineering Initiative, Rice University, the Stanford University School of Medicine, Tufts University, the University of California, Santa Barbara, the University of North Carolina, the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, the University of Wisconsin, 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 Office of the Surgeon General, the Department of Veterans Affairs and the National Institutes of Health. In addition to this funding, Wake Forest and its partners will provide more than $150 million from academic institutions, industry and state and federal agencies for the projects – for a total of almost $200 million available for soldier regeneration research.
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About the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine
The Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine (www.wfirm.org) is an established center dedicated to the discovery, development and clinical translation of regenerative medicine technologies by leading faculty. The institute has used biomaterials alone, cell therapies, and engineered tissues and organs for the treatment of patients with injury or disease. The Institute is based at the Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center, an academic health system comprised of North Carolina Baptist Hospital and Wake Forest University Health Sciences, which operates the university’s School of Medicine. The system is consistently ranked as one of “America’s Best Hospitals” by U.S. News & World Report.