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Science Takes Aim at Battlefield Injury in Massive Project Grant

New Armed Forces Institute for Regenerative Medicine to be led by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh’s McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine and Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center

PITTSBURGH, April 17, 2008 — The University of Pittsburgh’s McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine and the Institute for Regenerative Medicine at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center have been selected as co-leaders of a national $85 million program to use the science of regenerative medicine to develop new treatments for wounded soldiers.

A new federally funded institution – the Armed Forces Institute of Regenerative Medicine (AFIRM) – will be made up of the U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research and consortia involving the McGowan-Wake Forest team and another led by Rutgers and the Cleveland Clinic. Each group was awarded $42.5 million. The Wake Forest-McGowan team includes collaborators from 15 other institutions.

“Researchers from the University’s McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine are known throughout the world for their cutting-edge research that is providing real hope for dramatic advances in human health,” said Pitt Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg. “The Institute has fast become one of the nation’s leaders in developing organ and tissue technologies as viable clinical therapies, and through its involvement in AFIRM, the Institute will continue to progress in this vitally important area.”

AFIRM will be co-directed by Alan J. Russell, Ph.D., director of the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine, and Anthony Atala, M.D., director of the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine. The massive project 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 also will benefit people in the civilian population with burns or severe trauma due to illness or injury.

“Our goal is to use our position as the international leader in developing restorative therapies for battlefield trauma to improve the outcomes for our wounded,” said Dr. Russell, who is a founding president of the Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicine International Society (TERMIS). “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.”

The McGowan and Wake Forest team has committed 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
  • 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 research teams 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.

Drs. Russell and Atala note that the team’s ability to deliver 11 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 the first time in the history of regenerative medicine, we have the opportunity to bring transformational technologies to wounded soldiers, and to do so in partnership with the armed services,” said Dr. Atala. “This field of science has the potential to significantly impact our ability to successfully treat major trauma.”

Twenty-nine McGowan research teams in Pittsburgh will be joined by 16 at Wake Forest and 33 more research teams at 15 other institutions and companies focusing on regenerative medicine. Several treatments are now being evaluated in patients. More than 50 technologies from these researchers already have had an impact on treatments for illness and injury.

Researchers associated with McGowan 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.

Collaborators and subcontractors for the McGowan-Wake Forest team include Allegheny Singer Research Institute; the California Institute of Technology; Carnegie Mellon University; the Georgia Institute of Technology; the U.S. Army Institute for Collaborative Biotechnologies; Intercytex Group, Plc; Organogenesis Inc.; Oregon Biomedical Engineering Institute; the Pittsburgh Tissue Engineering Initiative Inc.; Providence Health System; Rice University; Stanford University; Tufts University; the University of California, Santa Barbara; 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 and the National Institutes of Health. In addition to the announced government funding, the universities and the other partners will provide more than $180 million from academic institutions, industry and state and federal agencies for the projects – for a total of more than $250 million available for soldier regeneration research.

About the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine
To realize the vast potential of tissue engineering and other techniques aimed at repairing damaged or diseased tissues and organs, the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center have established the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine to serve as a single base of operations for the university’s leading scientists and clinical faculty working to develop tissue engineering, cellular therapies and artificial organ devices. The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center is the largest integrated health care enterprise in Pennsylvania and one of the leading nonprofit health systems in the country. It has appeared eight times on the prestigious U.S. News & World Report Honor Roll of “America’s Best Hospitals,” most recently earning 13th position in 2007.

About Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center
Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center is 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 comprises 1,154 acute care, psychiatric, rehabilitation and long-term care beds and is consistently ranked as one of “America’s Best Hospitals” by U.S. News & World Report.

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