Today, regenerative medicine research is dramatically trying to improve the survival and rehabilitation of soldiers who are wounded in combat. Critical issues in combat care include the effectiveness and shelf life of blood products, reducing wound infections, plus reconstructing bone, tissue, and facial structures. Army surgical research now concentrates on informatics, clinical trauma, and bioprosthetics.
In general, the military’s science and engineering research programs are focused on designing the soldier system of the future to cross disciplinary boundaries, to focus on protection, injury intervention and cure, and to improve human performance.
Last year, the Department of Defense created the Armed Forces Institute of Regenerative Medicine made up of two multi-institutional consortia with $85 million to fund the effort. One consortia led by Wake Forest University, and the University of Pittsburgh, and the other consortia led by Rutgers University and the Cleveland Clinic will move forward on research efforts. The U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research is working with both groups.
Progress is being made. For example, the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine has developed a computer-controlled system to build properly organized muscle tissue in the lab. To do this, human muscle cells are attached to strands of collagen or connective tissue. They are then subjected to cyclic stretching in a bioreactor, which simulates the conditions of the human body. The preconditioning allows the cells to align in one direction to form muscle bundles and function like normal muscle.
Also, Wake Forest and the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine are working 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, and compartment syndrome a condition related to inflammation after surgery or injuries.
To further address these regenerative research issues, the Center for Advanced Bioengineering for Soldier Survivability (CABSS) has been established in the College of Engineering (COE) at Georgia Tech. Research funds for CABSS will enable partnerships to develop to include investigators in regenerative medicine and cranial and maxillofacial surgery at Morehouse College of Medicine, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, Emory University, and the Medical College of Georgia. These education institutions will combine their expertise to work with the engineering faculty at Georgia Tech.
Priorities of CABSS involve doing research on the healing of segmental bone defects, improved healing of massive soft tissue defects, improved wound healing, tissue viability assessment, and wound irrigation. In addition, the Army is funding research to study demographic and injury data on the battlefield, long-term outcomes of casualties, how to improve pre-hospital care for orthopedic and craniofacial injuries, and how to develop novel light weight materials for use in integrated robotic prostheses.
There remains the critical need for technologies to transfer into medical products which are safe and effective. To accomplish these goals, research teams at CABSS will include clinicians with expertise in combat medical care, and biomedical engineers and bioscientists with industry and regulatory expertise to shorten the process from invention to clinical use.
Dr. Barbara D. Boyan, COE Associate Dean for Research and Price Gilbert, Jr. Chair of Tissue Engineering is leading the new CABSS center. Funding is available from DOD’s Institute of Surgical Research, the Orthopedic Trauma Research Program, and the Armed Forces Institute of Regenerative Medicine, as well as from corporate partners. Dr. Boyan’s goal is to establish funding for developing new technologies. In addition to musculoskeletal tissues, CABSS will investigate the interface between materials and nerve cells to enable the development of robotic prostheses to integrate directly with the patient’s tissues.
To bring the research together, a coalition of universities, life sciences companies, healthcare investors and patient advocates with the common goal for advancing cell-based therapies all united on July 1, to launch the Alliance for Regenerative Medicine. The organization located in Washington D.C., will promote regulatory, research, and study how reimbursement policies can help foster innovation in regenerative medicine.