As a result of the wars of the Middle East our soldiers are undergoing extreme trauma and damage to abdominal organs. In the past, these types of wounds were typically so severe as to be consistently lethal. However, with the advances of warfare body armor, the number of troops wounded in combat and surviving their injuries is the best ratio in any recorded American conflict.
To help with the increasing medical needs of our military personnel, promising research which is producing results today began in 2002 with a $2 million federal Defense Department grant to the National Tissue Engineering Center (NTEC). The award was just the beginning of a long-term partnership with the US Army Institute for Surgical Research and the Walter Reed Army Medical Center and various Pittsburgh establishments.
The funds which total $8.8 million today and are administered by the Pittsburgh Tissue Engineering Initiative, have been spread among researchers working on defense-related research projects at numerous institutions, including the McGowan Institute, University of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon University, Duquesne University, and the UPMC Health System.
In response to the increasing number of wounded soldiers returning with the problem of “Abdominal Compartment Syndrome,” McGowan Institute faculty member Dr. Stephen Badylak and his colleagues through their NTEC-sponsored program have been working on a novel method of dealing with this issue. The results of recent animal studies in Dr. Badylak’s abdominal wall wound research program have been positive. They have learned that the use of extracellular matrix (ECM) scaffold in the trials has been found to be far superior to the default mechanism of wound healing in the abdominal area, which would be dense, disorganized scar tissue with extensive adhesions. The ECM-replaced muscle tissue represented a single thick layer of abdominal wall tissue, with no evidence for herniation, infection, or other complications. In another of Dr. Badylak’s projects, ECM scaffolds are being tested for tissue regeneration of rib segments. These successful studies have shown the promotion of new bone formation (see diagram).
Dr. Badylak’s projects are just a few of the many NTEC-related research projects. For most researchers, this funding served as seed funding towards the receipt of future monies to continue valuable studies. In 2006, the government funding of NTEC’s “innovative programs in wound healing, musculoskeletal tissue engineering, and cardiothoracic and vascular tissue engineering” was identified as a role benefiting “scientific research with the development of effective new technologies that employ adult stem cells.” The results of these research programs are benefiting our soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Please see the below links for additional information on the history of NTEC, its role in promoting future regenerative medicine funding, and the other tissue engineering research projects helping our soldiers.
Illustration: Pittsburgh Tissue Engineering Initiative.
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (07/30/02)
The Hill (07/26/06)
Pittsburgh Tissue Engineering Initiative NTEC Research