Institute for regenerative medicine to lead national effort to aid wounded warriors

September 28th, 2013
The Institute for Regenerative Medicine at Wake Forest University School of Medicine (Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center) has been selected to lead the second phase of the Armed Forces Institute of Regenerative Medicine (AFIRM). The five-year, $75 million federally funded project focuses on applying regenerative medicine to battlefield injuries.

Anthony Atala, M.D., director of the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine, is the lead investigator for AFIRM-II. He will direct a consortium of more than 30 academic institutions and industry partners. Assisting him is co-director Rocky S. Tuan, Ph.D., associate director of the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh.

The first phase of AFIRM, which began in 2008, resulted in clinical studies of face transplantation, minimally invasive surgery for craniofacial injuries, a lower-dose anti-rejection regimen after kidney transplantation, scar reduction treatments, fat grafting for reconstructive surgery and new treatments for burns. Atala was co-leader of AFIRM-I, which was comprised of two research consortiums.

"The AFIRM-I teams were charged with conducting at least one clinical study of a new treatment for wounded warriors," said Atala. "Instead, due to their expertise, collaborative spirit and dedication to the mission, there were more than 10 clinical studies of potential new therapies. We are honored to have the opportunity to continue this important work to benefit those who serve our country."

Regenerative medicine is a science that takes advantage of the body's natural healing powers to restore or replace damaged tissue and organs. Therapies developed by AFIRM can also benefit people in the civilian population. AFIRM is a "results-focused" program that not only funds scientific research, but requires that discoveries be tested and compared so that the most promising therapies can be brought to clinical trials.

"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. Ultimately, we'd like to create new treatments to repair these severe injuries as if they never happened," said Maj. Gen. Joseph Caravalho Jr., commanding general of the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command and Fort Detrick. "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."

The AFIRM-II team will focus on developing clinical therapies over the next five years focusing on:

  • Restoring function to severely traumatized limbs
  • Reconstruction for facial and skull injuries through tissue regeneration
  • Skin regeneration for burn injuries
  • New treatments to prevent rejection of "composite" transplants such as face and hands
  • Reconstruction of the genital and urinary organs and lower abdomen including the bladder, anal sphincter and external genitalia

Members of the AFIRM-II team, known as the Warrior Restoration Consortium, are Brigham and Women's Hospital, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland Clinic, Georgia Institute of Technology, Jewish Hospital, Johns Hopkins University, Livionex Inc., Massachusetts General Hospital, Mayo Clinic, New York University School of Medicine, Northwestern University, Oregon Health & Science University, Radboud University Medical Center, Research Foundation of SUNY, Rice University, Stanford University School of Medicine, Rutgers -The State University of New Jersey, Southwest Research Institute, Stratatech Corporation, The Ohio State University College of Medicine, Tufts University, University of California, Los Angeles, University of Cincinnati, University of Connecticut, University of Florida, University of Louisville School of Medicine, University of Maryland School of Medicine, University of Michigan, University of Pittsburgh, UW Medicine, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Wake Forest University School of Medicine (Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center).

The academic-industry team will work with health professionals at the U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research and Walter Reed National Military Medical Center to develop new treatments for wounded soldiers. Government sponsors of AFIRM are the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command, the Office of Naval Research, the Air Force Medical Service, the Office of Research and Development - Department of Veterans Affairs, the National Institutes of Health, and the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs.

Provided by Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center

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