Mayo research helping wounded soldiers
Goal is to regenerate nerves so veterans regain function and feeling
As a brigadier general in the U.S. Air Force Reserve, Michael Yaszemski, M.D., Ph.D., of Mayo Clinic understands the injuries faced by today's soldiers. In 2006, he served as deputy commander of the Air Force Theater Hospital in Balad, north of Baghdad, Iraq.
Back home, in Rochester, Minn., Dr. Yaszemski is an orthopedic surgeon and biomedical engineer looking for ways to improve the lives of the same wounded soldiers he helped oversees. He and Anthony Windebank, M.D., are researching how to use synthetic scaffolds to deliver cells to injured nerves. They hope to prompt nerve regeneration to the point where a patient regains function and feeling.
"The opportunity to collaborate at this level to meet the medical and surgical needs of our injured service members is a privilege, and we are proud to contribute in whatever way we can," says Dr. Yaszemski.
New treatment for war injuries
In a broad and innovative attempt to help improve the lives of the approximately 3,000 U.S. servicemen and women who have returned home from war as amputees, the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force and National Institutes of Health have joined together to create a new effort called the Armed Forces Institute of Regenerative Medicine, or AFIRM. The purpose and intent of the $85 million, five-year program is to fund research by the country's leading experts in regenerative medicine to help improve and accelerate the development of new treatments for war injuries. Mayo Clinic is one of 16 institutions to receive funding.
Dr. Yaszemski is co-director for both bone regeneration and nerve injury research on AFIRM and Dr. Windebank is co-director of nerve regeneration.
Encouraging lab results
The technology of Dr. Yaszemski, Dr. Windebank and the research team is already showing promise in the lab. They say they have successfully regenerated nerve fibers in peripheral nerves and in the spinal cords of laboratory mice.
They're now seeking approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Mayo Clinic Institutional Review Board to begin human clinical trials.
"The goal of our work is to regenerate the nerves to the point where a patient will regain function and feeling," Dr. Yaszemski says. "That will benefit patients whether they're injured on the battlefield or in civilian trauma here in the United States."