June 16, 2006
The research and development arm of the U.S. Department of Defense is investing millions in challenging scientists to develop a way for humans to restore tissue structures lost to traumatic injury. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) awarded a one-year grant of nearly $3.9 million to a group of scientists led by Ken Muneoka, professor of cell and molecular biology at Tulane University.
The multi-center study is one of only two projects in the country funded by a DARPA grant aimed at tissue restoration.
Using the salamander and mouse as models that respond differently to a severe injury, the scientists will explore ways they can harness the body's natural healing process to heal deep wounds that involve bone, muscle, nerves and soft tissues.
Scientists hope that achievements in the program will lead to the long-term goal of regeneration of tissue in humans.
The salamander is the only animal that can make a blastema, a mass of undifferentiated cells growing at the wound site that fully restores lost tissue, Muneoka says.
The same type of "bud" is produced when a child loses only the tip of a finger, yet this capability is lost by adulthood.
"Why? That's the million-dollar question," Muneoka says. "Nobody has spent a great deal of effort to understand this failure to heal wounds involving multiple tissue types. There are lots of tissues such as bone, muscle, cartilage and skin that can independently undergo a healing and regeneration response. What's missing is a way to coordinate these events so complex wounds can be restored. How can we turn on the coordinating function?"
The researchers will focus on stimulating the regeneration process in a mouse model by making a blastema for the mouse to regrow digits as a model of complex tissue.
"Our hope is that success in a mammalian model such as the mouse will pave the way for better understanding of the regenerative process in humans, leading to breakthroughs in wound healing and ultimately tissue regeneration that will benefit in particular the large number of soldiers who survive major battlefield injuries," Muneoka says.
Collaborating on the project are researchers from the University at California-Irvine: Susan Bryant, dean of biological sciences, David Gardiner, research biologist in the department of development and cell biology, Elizabeth Rugg, associate researcher of dermatology, and Doug Wallace, who is the Donald Bren Professor of Biological Sciences and Molecular Medicine.
Other researchers on the team are Tanja Dominko, a scientist with CellThera Inc. and Eugenia Wang, professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at the University of Louisville. The DARPA grant is for one year, and the agency could provide further funding for up to three additional years.
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