The Department of Defense has awarded a five-year, $75 million grant to Rice University and the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) for research focused on improving technologies to treat battlefield injuries to soldiers and to advance care for the public.
The Armed Forces Institute of Regenerative Medicine (AFIRM) Warrior Restoration Consortium under the lead institution — Wake Forest University School of Medicine (Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center), located in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, has entered into a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command, the Office of Naval Research, the Air Force Medical Service, the Office of Research and Development — Department of Veterans Affairs, the National Institutes of Health and the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs.
The AFIRM II program will focus on five key areas: extremity regeneration, craniomaxillofacial regeneration, skin regeneration, composite tissue allotransplantation and immunomodulation, and genitourinary/lower abdomen reconstruction. Therapies developed by the AFIRM II program are intended to aid traumatically injured service members and civilians. The goals of the program are to fund basic through translational regenerative medicine research and to position promising technologies and therapeutic/restorative practices for entrance into human clinical trials.
Continuing a program that commenced in 2008 that has focused on limb repair, craniofacial repair, burn repair, scarless wound repair, and compartment syndrome. Through AFIRM-II, bioengineering researchers at Rice led by Dr. Antonios Mikos, a pioneer in the field of tissue engineering, and Dr. Kurt Kasper, a Rice faculty fellow in bioengineering, expect to advance the art of craniofacial reconstruction. The grant funds research at more than 45 academic institutions and industry partners.
Dr. Antonios G. Mikos is the Louis Calder Professor of Bioengineering and Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at Rice University. He is the Director of the J.W. Cox Laboratory for Biomedical Engineering and the Director of the Center for Excellence in Tissue Engineering at Rice University. Dr. Mikos’ research focuses on the synthesis, processing, and evaluation of new biomaterials for use as scaffolds for tissue engineering, as carriers for controlled drug delivery, and as non-viral vectors for gene therapy. His work has led to the development of novel orthopaedic, dental, cardiovascular, neurologic, and ophthalmologic biomaterials. He is the author of over 450 publications and 25 patents. He is the editor of 14 books and the author of one textbook (Biomaterials: The Intersection of Biology and Materials Science, Pearson Prentice Hall, 2008). He has been cited over 38,000 times and has an h-index of 106. The Mikos Research Group lab at Rice specializes in biomaterials, drug delivery, gene therapy, and tissue engineering.
Dr. F. Kurtis Kasper’s postdoctoral training at Rice University focuses on the application of novel biomaterials and adult-derived stem cell culture techniques for generation of hematopoietic bone and cartilage regeneration research. Dr. Kasper is also principal investigator on a new $1.7 million five-year investigator-initiated research project grant from the National Institutes of Health to develop an injectable mix of polymers and adult stem cells that can spur the growth of new cartilage in injured knees and other joints. His doctoral research involved the application of polymeric biomaterials toward non-viral gene delivery for bone tissue engineering.
Regenerative medicine, which takes advantage of the body’s natural healing powers to restore or replace damaged tissue and organs, is one of many lines of research under investigation at Rice’s BioScience Research Collaborative (BRC).
“We’re very excited to have this opportunity to complete the work we started five years ago on the technologies we promised for the injured warrior,” says Dr. Mikos in a Rice U. release.
Rice will administer a grant of approximately $1.8 million and draw upon expertise at Baylor College of Medicine and the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. “One of the beauties of this program is that it is a true collaboration involving not only people from Rice and UTHealth, but essentially people from all the institutions in Houston,” Dr. Mikos explains.
Drs. Mikos and Kasper will continue to work closely with Dr. Mark Wong, Professor and Chairman of of the the Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery at The University of Texas School of Dentistry at UTHealth Houston. Dr. Wong’s clinical and research interests are focused on reconstructive surgery, tissue engineering of bone and the biomechanical characterization and regeneration of the temporomandibular joint, and is funded by the National Institutes of Health as well as the Department of Defense. Dr. Wong says he expects the civilian population will benefit from AFIRM-II even before its military clients.
Implants made of biocompatible material will help heal soldiers wounded in the battlefield and civilians as well through research at Rice University and The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. The implants hold open a space for a more permanent repair. (Credit: Jeff Fitlow/Rice University)
“The Department of Defense does not have the necessary funds to develop a product from conception through testing to initial and full clinical trials,” Dr. Wong comments in the Rice release. “Halfway through AFIRM-I, they came to that realization and encouraged the investigative teams to look at commercial partnerships that will help us develop products.”
Dr. Wong says that would likely result in civilian trials before treatments are adopted for battlefield use. “The military is very sensitive about using technologies that are still considered experimental to treat soldiers,” he said. Consequently, treatments would likely be submitted for approval to the Food and Drug Administration and available to civilians first, he suggests.
The Armed Forces Institute of Regenerative Medicine (AFIRM) is a multi-institutional, interdisciplinary network working to develop advanced treatment options for our severely wounded servicemen and women. The AFIRM is managed and funded through the US Army Medical Research and Materiel Command (MRMC); with additional funding from the US Navy, Office of Naval Research; the US Air Force, Office of the Surgeon General; the National Institutes of Health; the Veterans Administration; the Department of Defense, Health Affairs and local public and private matching funding.
The Rice and UTHealth laboratories are also working with specialists at Radboud University Nijmegen Medical Center in the Netherlands. “Our collaborators there have a lot of expertise in implantology, in craniofacial implants and especially in ceramic-based materials,” Dr. Kasper says in the Rice release. “The goal is to develop an injectable and bioresorbable calcium phosphate cement that can be used to facilitate bone regeneration in the craniofacial skeleton.”
“We’re not only emphasizing our strengths, but also building alliances with other groups and institutions,” Dr.Mikos adds.
The first phase of AFIRM resulted in clinical studies of face transplantation, minimally invasive surgery for craniofacial injuries, a lower-dose anti-rejection regimen after kidney transplantation, scar reduction treatments, fat grafting for reconstructive surgery and new treatments for burns. Terms of the AFIRM II grant require that discoveries by the partners be tested and compared so the most promising therapies can be brought to clinical trials.
Along with facial and skull reconstruction by Rice and UTHealth, AFIRM-II researchers will focus on restoring function to severely traumatized limbs, skin regeneration for burn injuries, new treatments to prevent the rejection of transplants such as face and hands and reconstruction of genital and urinary organs and the lower abdomen.
“When warriors come back from the battlefield with serious life-changing injuries, it is our job to find new and innovative ways to help them,” says mrmc.amedd.army.mil : home : commanding general Maj. Gen. Joseph Caravalho Jr. , commanding general of the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command and Fort Detrick, in a U.S. Army release. “Ultimately, we’d like to create new treatments to repair these severe injuries as if they never happened. The science of regenerative medicine is one of the ways we fulfill our promise to service members who put themselves in harm’s way, that we will work our hardest and do our very best to take care of them.”