Reposted with permission from UPMC. Click here to view the original article.
March 11, 2020 – A multi-institution research team led by the University of Pittsburgh
secured a $22 million grant from the Defense
Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to develop a device
combining artificial intelligence, bioelectronics and regenerative medicine to
regrow muscle tissue, especially after combat injuries.
at Carnegie Mellon, Northwestern, Rice, University of Vermont, University of Wisconsin
and Walter Reed National Military
Medical Center are also part of this four-year initiative.
When more than 20% of a muscle is
damaged, as is
common for soldiers wounded in recent overseas conflicts, the tissue can’t
regenerate and a stiff scar forms in place of the missing muscle, which often
leads to significant disability.
“With these severe injuries it’s been drilled
into us through all of our training that functional muscle replacement is not
possible,” said principal investigator Stephen
Badylak, D.V.M., Ph.D., M.D., professor of surgery at Pitt and
deputy director of the McGowan Institute for
Regenerative Medicine. “The sort of technology we’re developing offers hope
where there otherwise would have been no hope.”
Badylak envisions creating a device that
would change the environment inside larger wounds to help them heal the way
smaller wounds do naturally.
wounds typically switch from inflammatory to anti-inflammatory conditions a
couple weeks after the initial injury. Badylak imagines kicking larger
wounds into anti-inflammatory mode as early as day three or four, and then
again a few days later, repeating the cycle until the muscle rebuilds itself, similar to the way
fetal wounds heal without forming a scar.
All of that would be accomplished by a
smart device implanted inside the wound.
device will monitor key molecular signals at each stage of healing – from the
first hours after injury to the days and weeks that follow – and deliver specific
molecules at specific times under the direction of artificial intelligence.
first two years of the project will involve developing the device, then the
next two years will involve close collaboration with surgeons at Walter Reed, who
treat patients with major muscle loss, to refine the design so that it’s suitable
for the clinic.
the researchers will be working with industry partners and the Food & Drug Administration to identify and
clear regulatory hurdles that might slow down clinical translation. For
instance, it’s possible to test whether the components of the device are safe to
use in the human body while the overall design is evolving.
developing the science and the device in mostly an academic setting,” Badylak
said. “If that’s done without consideration of regulatory and industry requirements,
patients would never see it because it would remain buried in institutions with
no clear path for clinical translation.”
of the companies engaging in this process is ECM Therapeutics, which Badylak spun
out of Pitt in 2018 to speed up the clinical translation of several extracellular
matrix technologies developed by his lab. Badylak and Pitt both have a
financial stake in the company.
investigators on the grant include Yoram Vodovotz, Ph.D., Ruben Zamora, Ph.D., Douglas
Weber, Ph.D., Bryan Brown, Ph.D., Paul Cohen, Ph.D., and Milos Hauskrecht,
Ph.D., of Pitt; Tzahi Cohen-Karni, Ph.D., and Adam Feinberg, Ph.D., of Carnegie
Mellon University; Jonathan Rivnay, Ph.D., of Northwestern University; Jacob
Robinson, Ph.D., Ashok Veeraraghavan, Ph.D., and Omid Veiseh, Ph.D., of Rice
University; Gary An, M.D., and Robert Chase Cockrell, Ph.D., of the University
of Vermont; Peng Jiang, Ph.D., of the University of Wisconsin; and Eric Elster,
M.D., and Seth Schobel, Ph.D., of Walter Reed.
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About the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences
The University of
Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences include the schools of Medicine,
Nursing, Dental Medicine, Pharmacy, Health and Rehabilitation Sciences and the
Graduate School of Public Health. The schools serve as the academic partner to
the UPMC (University of Pittsburgh Medical Center). Together, their combined
mission is to train tomorrow’s health care specialists and biomedical
scientists, engage in groundbreaking research that will advance understanding
of the causes and treatments of disease and participate in the delivery of
outstanding patient care. Since 1998, Pitt and its affiliated university
faculty have ranked among the top 10 educational institutions in grant support
from the National Institutes of Health. For additional information about the
Schools of the Health Sciences, please visit www.health.pitt.edu.
Contact: Erin Hare