NEWSWEEK – May 19, 2008: To visit Wake Forest University’s institute for Regenerative Medicine is to enter a surreal world where scientists create living organs—hearts, bladders and even kidneys—that function like the real thing. Skin, bone, cartilage, blood vessels, nerves: nothing seems too ambitious for director Anthony Atala and his staff of 150 to craft. And while none of their creations are available from your doctor yet—most are still being tested in animals—there have been enough small-scale successes in humans that the U.S. military is suddenly very interested.
War may be hell, but it has a way of accelerating medical research. World War I brought methods for collecting and preserving blood for transfusions. World War II saw the introduction of penicillin into medical practice. One day, medical historians may remember Iraq and Afghanistan for spurring regenerative medicine, a grab bag of techniques that share the same end—to repair human bodies by helping them regenerate living tissue, rather than relying on artificial parts. Last month Lt. Gen. Eric Schoomaker, the Army surgeon general, announced $85 million in government funding to create a new Armed Forces Institute of Regenerative Medicine (AFIRM). The effort, which involves researchers at two dozen institutions, is codirected by Atala at Wake Forest, together with colleagues at the University of Pittsburgh, Rutgers and the Cleveland Clinic. As the general put it, “We’re embarking on a new generation of research that’s going to redefine Army and military medicine as we know it today.” And likely transform civilian medicine, too.
The full array of potential regenerative therapies being developed by AFIRM is astonishing. Newell Washburn at Carnegie Mellon University is working on special gels to help tamp down inflammation at the site of a deep wound, allowing skin to regenerate without scarring. Dr. Charles Sfeir at the McGowan Institute is developing a powder containing bone proteins, growth factors and biodegradable cement that can be mixed with water in the operating room and molded to the shape of missing bone. Atala has created nerves that conduct impulses—at least in mice. “There isn’t a tissue you could name that someone isn’t working on,” says Alan Russell of the McGowan Institute, codirector of AFIRM. And one day, that will benefit us all. Link: Read Complete Article