A $75 million Department of Defense grant to improve technologies to treat soldiers injured on the battlefield and advance care for the public will involve bioengineers at Rice University and the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth).
The five-year Armed Forces Institute of Regenerative Medicine (AFIRM) grant announced today by the lead institution, the Wake Forest University School of Medicine, continues a program that began in 2008. Through AFIRM-II, researchers at Rice led by Antonios Mikos, a pioneer in the field of tissue engineering, and 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.
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," said Mikos, director of the BRC-based Rice Center for Excellence in Tissue Engineering. He is the Louis Calder Professor of Bioengineering and Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at Rice.
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," Mikos said.
Mikos and Kasper will continue to work closely with Mark Wong, chairman of the Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery at UTHealth.
Wong expects the civilian population will benefit from AFIRM-II even before its military clients.
"The Department of Defense does not have the necessary funds to develop a product from conception through testing to initial and full clinical trials," he said. "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."
Wong said 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 said.
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," Kasper said. "The goal is to develop an injectable and bioresorbable calcium phosphate cement that can be used to facilitate bone regeneration in the craniofacial skeleton."