US Army improving the regrowth of bone, muscle and skin

US Army researchers are using fillers to bridge the gap in damaged bones, hoping to figuratively bridge the gap between current regenerative techniques and the ideal: people regrowing lost limbs. Stephanie Shiels with the U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research, Fort Sam Houston, Texas, talked about her research to develop a synthetic bone gap filler that heals bones and reduces infection by infusing those grafts with a variety of anti-microbials.

“We know that it reduces infection,” said Shiels. “Other things to consider include adding a bulking agent … to help regenerate bone.”

Other research focuses on regrowing muscle lost in traumatic injuries, as well as recovering nerves, or at least preserving them, for future use. But besides treating those deep tissue wounds, there’s something a bit more on the surface that can impact troops: skin. The skin is known for its regenerative properties. Research is being conducted to help it do that job better and recover scar tissue.

Jason Brant with the University of Florida has turned to a mouse to help the military reduce scarring of injured Soldiers. He said the African spiny mouse has evolved a capability to lose large parts of its skin when a predator tries to grab it, allowing the mouse to escape and live to recover. The mouse is able to recover scar-free in a relatively short amount of time, which is remarkable considering the amount and depth of tissue lost. Brant wants to know how the mouse is able to do that.

“Warfighters and civilians alike suffer large surface [cuts] and burns, and these result in medically and cosmetically problematic scars,” said Brant. “The impacts of these scars … are really staggering. The ability to develop effective therapies will have an enormous impact not only on the health care system but on the individuals as well.”

He believes a certain protein in the mouse could be the key, but he’s still trying to figure out how it could apply to humans.

Another way to reduce scarring involves the initial treating of wounds. Army Maj. Samuel Tahk, a research fellow with the Uniformed Services Health Consortium, passed around to attendees samples of biocompatible sponges he’s investigating for their ability to promote skin healing, and thus, reduce scarring.

“It provides a scaffold to start regenerative growth,” said Tahk. “This could simplify patient care and also reduce costs.”

While the field of regenerating body parts is still new, Saunders believes it will be the future of wounded warrior care.

“Extremity wounds are increasingly survivable due to the implementation of body armor and damage control surgeries,” he said. “[There are] many wonderful things emerging in the field of regenerative medicine to restore form and function to our wounded warfighters.”


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