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MGH joins consortium pursuing innovative healing for war wounded
U.S. Army funds new Institute of Regenerative Medicine with $85 million

BOSTON - April 17, 2008 - The Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) is participating in a new consortium that has been awarded $42.5 million over five years to create one of two academic groups that will form the Armed Forces Institute of Regenerative Medicine (AFIRM).

MGH is part of the group to be led by Rutgers University and headed by Joachim Kohn, PhD, Board of Governors Professor of Chemistry and Chemical Biology in Rutgers' School of Arts and Sciences, and George Muschler, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at the Cleveland Clinic. A second consortium will be managed by Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center and the University of Pittsburgh, with another $42.5 million in funding.

The U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command (USAMRMC) - in conjunction with the Office of Naval Research, the National Institutes of Health, the Air Force Office of the Surgeon General and the Department of Veterans Affairs - will fund the two consortia.

The use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in Iraq and Afghanistan has caused a marked increase in severe blast trauma, now responsible for approximately 75 percent of all injuries, according to the Journal of Orthopaedic Trauma. Because of better body armor, quicker evacuation from the battlefield and advanced medical care, many of the injured survive to face the challenge of overcoming severe limb, head, face and burn injuries that can take years to treat and usually result in significant lifelong impairment.

The new institute is a strong national effort to address the unprecedented challenges of caring for men and women returning from Afghanistan and Iraq with multiple traumatic injuries. "Together, we are single-mindedly focused on the critical issue of alleviating the suffering of our severely injured veterans and improving the quality of their lives," said Cathryn Sundback, PhD, Associate Director of the Laboratory of Tissue Engineering and Organ Fabrication in the MGH Center for Regenerative Medicine.

AFIRM will develop new products and therapies for the repair of battlefield injuries through the use of regenerative medicine. This innovative approach employs biological therapy - including stem cells and growth factors, tissue and biomaterials engineering, and transplants - to enable the body to repair, replace, restore and regenerate damaged tissues and organs.

The institute also will dramatically accelerate the rate at which promising biomaterials, cell-based, and combined regenerative medicine technologies will be converted into new therapies to restore lost tissue and function. These products and therapies will also serve civilian trauma and burn patients.

MGH activities associated with the institute will receive $700,000 per year for five years, supplemented over the first two years by an additional $313,000 per year from the Center for Military Biomaterials Research (CeMBR).

"We are excited to be a member of this strong academic, industrial, and military team to address critical issues in the filed of regenerative medicine," said Sundback, who along with Joseph Vacanti, MD, Director of the MGH Laboratory of Tissue Engineering and Organ Fabrication, is an AFIRM project leader. "Our local team consists of key clinicians and researchers here at the Massachusetts General Hospital as well as at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary. Our collective mission is to develop novel regenerative medicine technologies and rapidly translate these and existing approaches into practical clinical solutions for our injured veterans." Sundback is an Instructor in Surgery and Vacanti is John Homans Professor of Surgery at Harvard Medical School.

The Rutgers-led consortium will be based on a highly integrated, open network of dedicated partners comprising 15 premier academic institutions and more than 20 leading companies. Most of the partners in the consortium have been professional colleagues for years with longstanding collaborations. The open-network approach ensures that the most qualified experts and performance sites, irrespective of their institutional affiliation or geographic location, will be within reach. An executive committee will direct the research programs of the geographically dispersed network of leading academic research scientists and clinicians, industrial scientists and business managers, and military medical experts.

In addition to the Rutgers and the Wake Forest-based groups, there will be a third component. The U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research in San Antonio, Texas, will work with the two academic consortia to provide guidance on military medical needs and hosting trials of new therapies.

In addition to MGH, the core academic partners are: the New Jersey Center for Biomaterials at Rutgers University, the National Center for Regenerative Medicine at the Cleveland Clinic, Case Western Reserve University, Carnegie Mellon University, Stony Brook University, Dartmouth College, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the Mayo Clinic, Northwestern University, University of Cincinnati, University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, University of Pennsylvania, University of Virginia and Vanderbilt University. These core partners are supported by a large number of industrial collaborators and participating health care companies that have expressed an interest in the commercialization of new products and therapies emerging from institute's research program.

Massachusetts General Hospital, established in 1811, is the original and largest teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School. The MGH conducts the largest hospital-based research program in the United States, with an annual research budget of more than $500 million and major research centers in AIDS, cardiovascular research, cancer, computational and integrative biology, cutaneous biology, human genetics, medical imaging, neurodegenerative disorders, regenerative medicine, systems biology, transplantation biology and photomedicine. MGH and Brigham and Women's Hospital are founding members of Partners HealthCare HealthCare System, a Boston-based integrated health care delivery system.

Media Contacts: Valerie Wencis, MGH Public Affairs

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