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Pitt Researcher Receives Grant to Help Wounded Soldiers Recover from Facial Injuries

PITTSBURGH, Nov. 9, 2009 – J. Peter Rubin, M.D., associate professor of surgery at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, is leading a team that recently received a $1.6 million award from the Department of Defense to help wounded soldiers recover from devastating facial injuries using innovative surgical technologies based on the biology of fat tissue. The award, known as the Biomedical Translational Initiative, is funded by the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs.

Working with core faculty at the McGowan Institute of Regenerative Medicine, researchers plan to treat 20 soldiers with facial injuries. “As many as 26 percent of wounded soldiers suffer some kind of facial injury, which can have a huge impact on quality of life,” said Dr. Rubin. “While we can reconstruct bony structures very well, it is the surrounding soft tissues that give people a recognizable face. This project will investigate how soft tissue grafting can more precisely restore facial form and improve the lives of our wounded soldiers.”

The use of fat grafting for serious facial injuries, such as those resulting from roadside bombs is facilitated in this project by using specially designed devices and instruments for harvesting fat tissue and implanting it into regions of scarred tissue.

"Fat grafting, or moving fat tissue from one part of the body to another, has been used as a cosmetic procedure for decades,” said Dr. Rubin. “We are now applying these same techniques for reconstructive surgery to accurately restore facial form after battlefield injuries.”

Faculty involved in the project include Kacey Marra, Ph.D., Gretchen Haas, Ph.D., and Barton Branstetter, M.D., all from the University of Pittsburgh; Colonel Robert Hale, D.D.S., U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research; and Sydney Coleman, M.D., a New York plastic surgeon and inventor of fat grafting technology.

In addition to being an internationally recognized expert in the field of plastic surgery after weight loss, Dr. Rubin directs a basic science research program in the biology of adipose-derived stem cells and is co-director of the Adipose Stem Cell Center at the University of Pittsburgh. He is the principal investigator in an NIH-funded line of research aimed at developing cell-based methods for clinical soft tissue reconstruction after cancer therapy. He directs a related line of research aimed at soft tissue reconstruction for injured soldiers as an investigator for the Department of Defense Armed Forces Institute for Regenerative Medicine. He is a past president of the International Society of Adipose Therapeutics and Science and past chairman of the Plastic Surgery Research Council.

University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine

As one of the nation’s leading academic centers for biomedical research, the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine integrates advanced technology with basic science across a broad range of disciplines in a continuous quest to harness the power of new knowledge and improve the human condition. Driven mainly by the School of Medicine and its affiliates, Pitt has ranked among the top 10 recipients of funding from the National Institutes of Health since 1997 and now ranks fifth in the nation, according to preliminary data for fiscal year 2008. Likewise, the School of Medicine is equally committed to advancing the quality and strength of its medical and graduate education programs, for which it is recognized as an innovative leader, and to training highly skilled, compassionate clinicians and creative scientists well-equipped to engage in world-class research. The School of Medicine is the academic partner of UPMC, which has collaborated with the University to raise the standard of medical excellence in Pittsburgh and to position health care as a driving force behind the region’s economy. For more information about the School of Medicine, see

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