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Regenerative Medicine Research Aimed at Military Service Members

Wake Forest Innovation Quarter will continue to be home to a key national project in regenerative medicine.

The Armed Forces Institute of Regenerative Medicine (AFIRM) is entering its second phase with a five-year, $75 million federal grant, and Anthony Atala, MD, director of the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine, will be lead investigator for what is being called AFIRM-II.

Atala was a co-leader of AFIRM-I, a project that began in 2008. The Wake Forest Institute is based at the Richard H. Dean Biomedical Research Building in Innovation Quarter.

The goal of AFIRM-II is to use regenerative medicine to develop therapies for battlefield injuries.

“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,” said Gen. Joseph Caravalho Jr., commanding general of the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command and Fort Detrick. “Ultimately, we’d like to create new treatments to repair these severe injuries as if they never happened.”

Regenerative Medicine’s Healing Powers

Regenerative medicine is a science that takes advantage of the body’s natural healing powers to restore or replace damaged tissue and organs. Therapies developed by AFIRM can also benefit people in the civilian population. AFIRM is a “results-focused” program that not only funds scientific research, but requires that discoveries be tested and compared so that the most promising therapies can be brought to clinical trials.

“The science of regenerative medicine is one of the ways we fulfill our promise to service members who put themselves in harm’s way,” Caravalho said. “That we will work our hardest and do our very best to take care of them.”

AFIRM-I resulted in clinical studies of face transplantation, minimally invasive surgery for craniofacial injuries, a lower dose anti-rejection regiment after kidney transplantation, scar reduction treatments, fat grafting for reconstructive surgery and new treatments for burns.

“The AFIRM-I teams were charged with conducting at least one clinical study of a new treatment for wounded warriors,” Atala said. “Instead, due to their expertise, collaborative spirit and dedication to the mission, there were more than 10 clinical studies of potential new therapies. We are honored to have the opportunity to continue this important work to benefit those who serve our country.”

Focus on Clinical Therapies

AFIRM-II is aimed at developing clinical therapies over the next five years focusing on:

  • Skin regeneration for burn injuries.
  • Restoring function to severely traumatized limbs.
  • Reconstruction for facial and skull injuries through tissue regeneration.
  • New treatments to prevent rejection of “composite’’ transplants such as face and hands.
  • Reconstruction of the genital and urinary organs and lower abdomen including the bladder, anal sphincter and external genitalia.