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Wake Forest Institute Gets Grant for Wounded Warriors

By Stephanie Soucheray

On Friday, Wake Forest University School of Medicine’s Institute for Regenerative Medicine announced it will have $75 million to spend in the next five years to develop novel technologies to help wounded warriors. The institute has been selected to lead the second phase of the Armed Forces Institute of Regenerative Medicine (AFIRM).

The kinds of wounds soldiers suffer in a battlefield are not for the weak of heart: missing limbs, severe burns and nerve damage can result from bomb blasts, gunfire and other forms of combat. Though medicine has helped soldiers with dramatic advancements in prosthesis, new technologies using the body’s own ability to restore tissue can offer even more recovery options for soldiers.

“For us, the most important thing is that we do have an interest in making sure technologies go through the process of development as quickly as possible to help our wounded warriors,” said Anthony Atala, director of the Institute for Regenerative Medicine.

Atala said the grant will fund approximately 14 projects and 60 researchers who are currently working on tissue and functional loss in wounded soldiers.

There are several planned research projects and groups, including the reconstruction of the craniofacial area and the creation of muscles that have been injured. Atala also said he would be working on the creation of blood vessels following an injury.

“We’re working on technologies at a very basic stage,” said Atala. “This is technology at the proof-of-concept stage. Our eventual goal is to get as many technologies as we can into development.”

AFIRM II’s results will also benefit the general public. For instance, new treatments to prevent rejection of “composite” transplants such as face and hand tissue can be used for the civilian population.

Atala oversaw the first phase of AFIRM in 2008. That phase resulted in more than 10 clinical trials for treatments including scar-reduction therapies and fat-grafting techniques.

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