Regenerative Medicine for the Armed Services at Wake Forest University

Written by Charlee Fox (’17) – Wake Forest School of Law Veterans Legal Clinic Student Practitioner 

Winston-Salem is home to the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine (WFIRM). The institute has multiple research projects including: cell and gene therapies, replacement organs and tissues, a bladder research center, and —relevant in the armed services context—a military application.

Regarding the military applications, WFIRM is currently working on six projects: 3-D printing, body on a chip, engineering muscle implants, genital injuries, oxygen-generating materials, and printing skin cells on burn wounds. It has received major funding contributions from the Armed Forces Institute of Regenerative Medicine II and Body on a Chip that total $99 million. Here is a brief overview of what WFIRM will be working on for armed service members as found on their website.

3-D printing will focus on head and skull injuries. The generation of replacement tissues such as bone, nerves, blood vessels, fat, and muscle will better enable scientists and doctors to mend wounds obtained in combat. It is thought that those soldiers suffering from blast or high velocity projectile injuries will especially benefit from this reconstructive technology.

Body on a chip will model a body’s response to chemical and biological agents. Human cells will be used to create organ-like structures mimicking the heart, liver, lungs and blood vessels. The tiny structures will be kept “running” on a two-inch chip and will be monitored to see what happens when faced with chemical toxins or biological agents. The information gained from this will aid in developing treatments.

Engineering muscle implants will be a therapy for replacing diseased or damaged muscle tissue. Muscle cells are “preconditioned” to become better able to mimic already existing muscle cells in a human body. These cells will be implanted into the wounded area and have shown to promote the repair and regrowth of muscle tissue.

Genital and pelvic injuries have become more prevalent due to the devices used in the Afghanistan war. WFIRM is working to develop urologic tissues that could improve reconstructive procedures. These reconstructive procedures could provide wounded warriors with normality after such traumatic experiences.

Oxygen-generating materials will attempt to put oxygen into muscle tissue and keep it alive after a soldier is wounded. Scientists at WFIRM will use natural chemicals that generate oxygen to hopefully develop a quick and easy treatment that medics can apply to a wound immediately after it happens. This will thankfully give surgeons a better chance at reconstruction.

Lastly, WFIRM is working on printing skin cells on burn wounds. A tester printer has already been developed with the “ink” being skin cells. A scanner will determine the wound size and depth, then that data will be relayed to the printer which will “print” layers of appropriate skin cells over the wound. WFIRM is currently seeing if a kind of stem cell found in amniotic fluid and placenta is able to heal wounds. Hopefully, the printer will be available to soldiers within the next five years.[1]

You may reach the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine at 336-713-7293. They are located in the Richard H. Dean Biomedical Building on 391 Technology Way in Winston-Salem, NC.

[1] See for source of above summaries.