Wounded troops may soon be able to regrow muscle, bone and tissue, and essentially regenerate their lost limbs, military scientists say.
Researchers are making progress on synthetic grafts to start regrowing muscle as well as nerve, vascular and connective tissues, according to a release Tuesday from the Military Health System.
Regenerating the body’s extremities was a focus of a military medical conference that concluded Wednesday in Florida.
“We’re not quite there yet,” said Army Lt. Col. David Saunders, extremity repair product manager for the Army Medical Materiel Development Activity at Fort Detrick, Maryland.
“What we’re trying to do is develop a toolkit for our trauma and reconstructive surgeons out of various regenerative medicine products as they emerge to improve long-term outcomes in function and form of injured extremities,” Saunders said at Military Health System Research Symposium.
To make progress toward troops being able to regrow missing limbs, a researcher is working to develop synthetic fillers to apply to gaps in bones that have been damaged. Stephanie Shiels of the U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research said the fillers would help to heal the bones, and a bulking agent could be used to help regenerate bone.
The chance of infection would be reduced by using grafts permeated with a variety of antimicrobials, Shiels said at the conference.
Researchers are working to regrow muscle lost in injuries, recovering and preserving nerves, and making skin better able to regenerate.
They are also looking at innovative ways to reduce scars by helping skin heal.
A type of sponge can do that, said Army Maj. Samuel Tahk, a research fellow with the Uniformed Services Health Consortium, said at the gathering. The sponge would act as a “scaffold” for regenerative growth to begin, he said.
Mice are part of another research approach to preventing scars. The African spiny mouse is able to survive losing skin when predators attack, and recover relatively quickly without scarring, said Jason Brant of the University of Florida.
More than a thousand troops have had an amputation to an upper or lower extremity because of combat injuries since the recent wars began, according to information from the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch.
More than 20,000 U.S. troops were wounded in action in Operation Enduring Freedom, and nearly 32,000 were wounded in Operation Iraqi Freedom, according to the Defense Department. More than 200 have been wounded in action in Operation Freedom’s Sentinel.
For wounded troops to have treatment that can regenerate muscle, tissue and limbs, they need long-term solutions, Saunders said.
“We would like it to be as restorative as possible, resist infection … and be durable,” Saunders said in the release. “This is going to be implanted in young people who may go on to live another 60 to 70 years.”
Kathleen Curthoys is editor of Army Times. She has been an editor at Military Times for 20 years, covering issues that affect service members. She previously worked as an editor and staff writer at newspapers in Columbus, Georgia; Huntsville, Alabama; Bloomington, Indiana; Monterey, California and in Germany.