Department of Defense Creates AFIRM
Research is well underway among participating institutions since the U.S.
Department of Defense announced in April 2008 the creation of a new $250
million institution focused on research called the Armed Forces Institute
Regenerative Medicine (AFIRM). The virtual organization is a
multi-institutional, interdisciplinary network working to develop advanced
treatment options over the next five years for severely wounded service
and women. AFIRM is managed and funded through the U.S. Army Medical
Research and Materiel Command (USAMRMC), with additional funding from the
U.S. Navy, U.S. Air Force, the National Institutes of Health, the Veterans
Administration and local public and private matching funding.
been designed to speed the delivery of regenerative medicine therapies to
treat the most critically injured service members from around the world,
but in particular those coming from theaters of operation in Iraq
and Afghanistan. There are five major programs: Limb Repair, Craniofacial
Repair, Burn Repair, Scarless Wound Repair and Compartment Syndrome
made up of two civilian research consortia working with the U.S. Army
Institute for Surgical Research (USAISR) in Fort Sam, Houston, Texas.
One consortium is lead by Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, and
the Cleveland Clinic and the other is led by Wake Forest University
Institute for Regenerative Medicine and The McGowan Institute for
Regenerative Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh. Each of these
civilian consortia is itself a multi-institutional network. There are a
total of 28 civilian institutions involved.
researchers are continuing to pursue promising avenues, such as tissue
regeneration of fingertips," said AFIRM Investigator William Wagner,
Ph.D., Deputy Director of the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine.
"We are also testing in animal models materials that could replace damaged
abdominal wall muscles, and we might soon embark on a novel strategy that
uses muscle-derived stem cells to heal severely injured tissue."
commercial interests are expressing a willingness to work with the AFIRM
consortia as commercialization partners. The medical device industry has
taken a keen interest in speeding these important new therapies to market,
not just for injured service members, but for civilian patients as well.
AFIRM believes this participation ultimately will lead to better
healthcare options for all Americans.
the research now being funded will use adult-derived stem cells taken from
the patient or from another consenting adult. AFIRM has stated adult stem
cells and progenitor cells are an integral part of normal wound healing
and the formation of all new tissues. Many of the strategies being
developed by AFIRM seek to improve wound healing and tissue repair by
increasing the number or improving the function of adult stem cells. A
patient’s own cells, or in some cases, cells from another adult, are used
in conjunction with special drugs called bioactive factors, or with
biomaterials that serve as scaffold for growth of new tissues. “The vision
of the future is that before soldiers go off on operations they will have
their own stem cells harvested through liposuction and stored for use if
they get wounded. That way while a casualty is being stabilized overseas,
we will be in the U.S. growing them muscle, skin or bone ready for
surgery,” Sgt. Glen Rossman of USAISR told Soldier magazine (March 2009
Director Col. Bob Vandre also commented: “AFIRM’s research is very
exciting news and should be very reassuring to soldiers. Some day we will
be able to fix a lot of things. We currently have 12 clinical trials ready
to roll and that is a sign that AFIRM has arrived and is very much for
Pharma Enter Arena
represents a major shift in the field, Pfizer announced in November 2008
it would spend $100 million over five years to develop therapies from stem
cells with the launch of Pfizer Regenerative Medicine
a global unit based in Cambridge, MA and Cambridge, the UK.
unit is focusing on using stem cells to develop therapies for cardiac
disorders and cancer through in-house research and a vast array of
alliances and collaborations, and will grow its team to 20 scientists. The
U.K. arm will grow to 60 scientists over the next two years with a focus
predominately on age-related and degenerative disorders with particular
interest in common cellular mechanisms and disorders of the central and
peripheral nervous system.
Regenerative Medicine is operating as an independent research unit and is
basing its stem cell research and drug discovery efforts on a full set of
drug discovery capabilities.
in 2008, Pfizer invested $3 million with La Jolla, CA-based startup
EyeCyte, Inc. (http://www.eyecyte.com)
to develop treatments for diabetes-induced retinal damage, a leading cause
of blindness, using patient blood and bone marrow-derived progenitor
addition, Epistem Plc (http://www.epistem.co.uk),
the UK-based biotechnology and research services company, announced in
March 2009 that it had signed a research and development collaboration
with Novartis to identify new drug targets and therapeutics across a
variety of disease areas. Epistem, which is focused on the regulation of
adult stem cells
located in epithelial tissue, is commercializing its expertise in the
areas of oncology, gastrointestinal and dermatological diseases.
Bill Would Create Research Consortium
To further adult stem cell research on the state level, Texas Senator Jane
Nelson (R-Lewisville) and Chair of the Senate Health and Human Services
Committee, has authored Senate Bill 73 that would create the Adult Stem
Cell Research Consortium, which would encourage collaboration between
researchers at Texas universities and cord blood banks. This body would
oversee funding for adult stem cell research received from both public and
passed, the bill would move Texas beyond the debate about whether it is
appropriate or inappropriate to destroy human embryos into the realm of
adult stem cell research and treatments without ethical concerns. It is
estimated that more than 1.2 million Texans are afflicted with chronic
degenerative conditions and can benefit from this research that could lead
to the discovery of successful treatments and potential cures.
March 2009 Texas Medical Association physician leader James T. Willerson,
MD, who is President and Medical Director of Cardiology Research, and
Codirector of the Cullen Cardiovascular Research Laboratories at Texas
Heart Institute in Houston, and other authorities in the state’s adult
stem cell field testified before senators at the Texas Senate Health and
Human Services Committee meeting in Austin in support of Senate Bill 73.
Blood Advancements Since 1st Transplant
In cord blood technology, 2008 marked the 20th anniversary of the
first cord blood transplantation in the world, carried out by Eliane
Gluckman, MD, Ph.D. The recipient of that pioneering effort, Matthew
Farrow, now 26 years old, continues in good health. He was born with a
rare blood disorder and
was expected to die before the age of 10. When he was five his parents
took part in a pioneering experiment in France to use stem cells from his
sister’s umbilical cord when she was born.
then, cord blood stem cells have been used in more than 14,000 transplants
worldwide to treat more than 70 diseases in both adults and children and
are now showing great promise for regenerative medicine
applications, including treatment for type 1 diabetes, brain injury,
cerebral palsy and hearing loss, according to Cord Blood Registry (http://www.cordblood.com),
the world’s largest stem cell bank.
result of pioneering work and the tremendous progress over the years, for
many families cord blood banking is the best option for treating and
curing disease, especially as they understand the importance of umbilical
cord donations for advancing the science,” said Koos of Bio-Matrix