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Treatment target: Research efforts target innovative therapies for wound healing, cosmetic procedures

Article-Treatment target: Research efforts target innovative therapies for wound healing, cosmetic procedures

Treatment target
Research efforts target innovative therapies for wound healing, cosmetic procedures

Bill Gillette
Staff Correspondent

WASHINGTON — The Department of Defense recently awarded a multi-million-dollar research grant to develop new therapies for wounded soldiers, which may hasten the pace at which unique, innovative burn- and wound-healing and cosmetic procedures become commonly used by plastic surgeons for treating civilians.

“Much of the research is related to the specialty of plastic surgery.

Millions for Medicine
The DOD recently announced that $85 million in research funding was being given to the Armed Forces Institute of Regenerative Medicine (AFIRM), a network of plastic surgeons and other physicians who specialize in tissue engineering and regenerative medicine. The funding will be distributed over a five-year period. About 25 percent of AFIRM’s physician researchers are board-certified plastic surgeons; other specialties represented in AFIRM include dermatology, general surgery, orthopedics and otolaryngology.

The $85 million grant has been evenly split between the two civilian research consortia that comprise AFIRM and which will work with the Army Institute of Surgical Research to develop new therapies for treating U.S. soldiers wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan. One consortium is led by the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine and the University of Pittsburgh’s McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine; the other consortium is headed by the New Jersey Center for Biomaterials at Rutgers University and the Cleveland Clinic’s National Center for Regenerative Medicine. A total of 28 universities and medical-research institutions are involved.

The AFIRM effort is aimed at speeding the delivery of regenerative-medicine therapies to soldiers who’ve been critically wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan, says Richard A. Clark, M.D., director of the Center of Tissue Engineering and professor of biomedical engineering at consortium member Stony Brook University on Long Island, NY. He says AFIRM is focused on five major research areas: salvage, reconstruction, regeneration and transplantation of limbs; craniofacial reconstruction; burn repair; scar reduction; and treatment for compartment syndrome.

Research Underway
“Much of the research activity funded by AFIRM is already under way at the individual participating institutions,” Dr. Clark tells Cosmetic Surgery Times. “For example, in a collaborative project with the Department of Emergency Medicine at Stony Brook, we are looking at ways to prevent burn-injury progression, and we will also be studying a peptide I discovered that is critical in connective-tissue cell survival and proliferation. It is our hope that our efforts eventually will help prevent burn-injury progression in patients whether they are wounded warriors or civilians.”

“…it’s never too late for innovative and ambitious thinking.”

Adam J. Katz, M.D.
University of Virginia

According to DOD statistics, as of mid-April, nearly 29,800 soldiers had been wounded in action in Iraq and another 1,927 in Afghanistan. Given the length of time these operations have been going on — as well as media coverage of inadequate treatment of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans — some might question why it’s taken so long to get this kind of research effort under way.

“I cannot comment on the timing other than to say that it’s never too late for innovative and ambitious thinking,” says Adam J. Katz, M.D., associate professor in the Department of Plastic Surgery at the University of Virginia, another consortium member. “The AFIRM grant is a completely new research paradigm in terms of structure, breadth and ambition. For me, it’s a genuine privilege to be a part of this effort.”

As for his research projects, Dr. Katz tell Cosmetic Surgery Times that they involve wound healing.

“We are initiating clinical trials to test the role of autologous fat transfer in the prevention and management of scars, and its potential to enhance healing of complex wounds, using controlled, blinded, randomized study designs,” he says. “The aim is to provide evidence-based methods, techniques and treatment guidelines for AFT.

“We also are focusing on the development and use of autologous adipose-derived, cell-based therapies and constructs for the repair, replacement and/or regeneration of the hypodermis, dermis and/or the epidermis.”

Partners in Care
According to Stony Brook’s Dr. Clark, many medical companies have expressed a willingness to work with the AFIRM consortia as partners.

“We are extremely pleased that the American medical-device industry has taken such a keen interest in speeding these important new therapies to market not just for injured service members, but for civilian patients as well,” he says. “We believe that this participation will ultimately lead to better health care options for all Americans.”

In addition to those mentioned above, the following institutions comprise the two AFIRM consortia: Carnegie Mellon University; Case Western Reserve University/University Hospitals Case Medical Center; Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center; Massachusetts General Hospital/Harvard Medical School; the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; the Mayo Clinic; Northwestern University; the University of Cincinnati; the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey; the University of Pennsylvania; Vanderbilt University; Baptist Medical Center; Allegheny Singer Research Institute; the California Institute of Technology; the Georgia Institute of Technology; Intercytex; the Oregon Medical Laser Center at Providence St. Vincent Medical Center; Organogenesis; the Pittsburgh Tissue Engineering Initiative; Rice University; Stanford University School of Medicine; Tufts University; the University of California, Santa Barbara; the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston; the University of Wisconsin; and Vanderbilt University. CST

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