In this comprehensive analysis we will observe what The Wake Forest Institute For Regenerative Medicine is and the kind of amazing futuristic type of work scientists are developing. This includes limb and organ regeneration research, along with 3D printing of tissues using stem cells.
The Institute at Wake Forest is an affiliated organization to the Wake Forest School of Medicine. It is abbreviated as WFIRM and located in the state of North Carolina of the United States of America.
We will explore some of the key goals and projects that the Institute is engaged in on the cutting edge of human regeneration and medical science. Also the research of limb regeneration will be discussed in how WFIRM is applying this research to battle field injuries.
It is the primary goal of the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine to implement the principles of the science of human regeneration to replace, repair and heal diseased organs and tissues. Additional objectives are focusing on how to create engineered blood vessels for heart by-pass surgery and insulin producing cells researched and produced in the laboratory.
Also in addition to this, the application of regenerative medicine technologies and limb regeneration research to battlefield injuries. This project is being lead by a $75 million federal initiative with the development wing of the American Military or the US Department of Defense.
I discussed about this in a separate article on this site, about what the Department of Defense were researching on in regards to limb regeneration in the Armed Forces Institute of Regenerative Medicine or AFIRM.
The director and leading scientist at WFIRM is Anthony Atala who initially joined the Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in the mid-2000s.
The purpose of the Institute is to be a leading role in taking scientific discoveries and translating them into clinical therapies.
Key achievements for WFIRM include laboratory grown organs and have them successfully implanted in humans. Successful trials have been conducted for a grown urinary bladders and to have this urinary bladder implanted into approved patients on a clinical trial.
Also the harvesting of stem cells from a pregnant woman taken from the amniotic fluid.
Since these stem cells are pluripotent it means they can be instructed to differentiate into a variety of cells types that are responsible for making up the bone, muscle, nerves and a host of other tissues. The significance is preventing the issue of tumor like formations and also the ethical debate that come with embryonic stem cells.
The interdisciplinary team at WFIRM is researching to engineer over 30 replacement organs and tissues to produce healing cell therapies. The ultimate goal is to cure, and not simply treat a symptom or disease. This also includes new innovative solutions and treatments for patients whom have suffered limb loss on the battlefield.
Below we look at some of the Wake Forest’s achievements in specific areas.
3D Printing of Living Body Parts
I wrote an article in the past on this site, about the 3D Printing of Human Organs with the use of Stem Cells. I discussed and highlighted what Wake Forest were doing with 3D Printed organs and about 3D Printing of organs in general with the use of a patient’s own stem cells.
Many research institutions have been creating 3D printed tissues limited to the use of pharmaceutical drug testing. However, everyone in the biological 3D printing technologies all profess the ultimate goal is to produce complete fully functioning organs than can be transplanted inside the patient.
Back in February 2016, Wake Forest Institute announced that they had successfully printed a human ear, bones and also muscle structures and transplanting them into animals.
The biological structures are being implanted and matured into tissues that are functional where new systems of blood vessels are grown. Given their strength and size it means that it is possible these new structures could be implanted into a human patient in the future.
Dr Atala at WFIRM has been a major player in the field of regenerative medicine and tissue engineering. As early as 2006 he was successful to implant a bladder into a human and this is the first time such an amazing feat has been accomplished.
They have also been developing a custom made 3D printer that uses a water based ink system to promote the growth and health of encapsulated cells. These are printed in alternating layers using biodegradable plastic ‘micro channels’ that operate as a path for nutrients. This system is called the Integrated Tissue and Organ Printing System (ITOP).
The ITOP is different from conventional bio-printing systems as it prints the scaffolds and cells at the same time.
In the video below a synopsis is given of the ITOP system, discussing its potential as a game changer and bring radical methods of rebuilding body parts and completely changing today’s prosthetics.
The research at Wake Forest is mostly funded by the Armed Forces Institute of Regenerative Medicine (AFIRM) that I mentioned earlier. This is a military organization that is developing regenerative medical treatments for injured solders including regrowth of lost limbs, third degree burns and a range of other new technologies.
Clearly the research and development of transplantation of 3D printed tissues would benefit not just military personal injured in the battle field but also the civilian population as these new inventions and research spills over into the public domain.
In fact, this is already happening with AFIRM whom developed a skin spray gun for using on secondary degree burn victims in the military with fantastic results that I have seen.
This technology has also been used for secondary burn victims such as children and adults scolded by hot water.
The idea behind the spray gun technology operates by harnessing the stem cell generated skin cells of the patient and applies this to the burn site of the patient. It has the potential to completely replace conventional skin grafting methods which are painful and not always effective. Also with conventional treatments of skin grafting there is some permanent scarring and dis-figuration, depending on the serious of the burns.
However, the skin gun is a vast improvement with the potential to regenerate the skin as if new.
The developers and company whom are developing the technology further and marketing it say eventually it will heal third degree burn injuries. This will be a massive game changer!
With the ITOP system mentioned above it is still years away from developing ‘ready to order’ body parts and organs that would reduce waiting times for those needing transplants using custom designed organs.
That being said, the 3D printed bone parts that were implanted into rats, of the animal experiments that have been done, the tissue is still alive and growing inside the rat’s bodies. This means that this research is really promising for the bio-printing of tissues that fully integrate into the body. You can see more of this research by look at the article published in nature about these new advances.
3D Printed Skin Technology
Around 1 year ago (January 2017) it has been revealed and published by Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine, scientists have been working on a new kind of bio-printing research that has the potential to be a real life changer in healing.
I mentioned above about the Spray Skin Gun describing a revolutionary new way to treat and heal burns for a good reason as the skin has been a major focus for researchers in bio-printing technologies.
But experts now feel that 3D printed functional skin will be a reality in our near future. This in theory would be placed on the old injured site and completely replacing the damaged skin.
If you thought the above on the Skin Spray Gun was incredibly exciting for burn victims then this can blow the ship out of the water for those suffering from severe damaged skin and skin diseases.
However, it does not stop there as the developments of 3D printed living skin is only part of the institution is trying to accomplish. This links into to AFIRM that I mentioned above with a $75 million of federal funds aiming at producing new regeneration medical technologies to be applied to soldier injuries on the battle field.
Organ and Limb Regeneration
WFIRM was chosen back in 2013 to take the lead in the second phase of AFIRM known as AFIRM II. This next phase would focus on a number of key areas.
- The healing of severely damaged limbs
- Skin regeneration research for new treatment of burns
- Rebuilding of the urinary organs and genital organs
- Prevention of the body rejection of transplants such as face and hands
- Skull and facial injury reconstruction via tissue engineering
A lot of these areas have been focusing on 3D printing technologies with stem cell research. The team at Wake Forest is focusing their energies on 3D printing of bone, blood vessels, fat, muscle and nerves, along with skull and face rebuilding.
Also working on new technologies that give the surgeon more fruitful and better options when repairing and reconstruction of severely traumatised limbs. This means instead of having options where treatments would be limited resulting in the course of amputation as the only option. The surgeon, thanks to 3D printing and tissue regeneration, has more creative options for saving the limb and repair.
As a quick side note, I saw a documentary sometime ago where they were looking at different ways to print a new hand and fingers.
Such limb regeneration research for saving the limb along with the long term goal of reproducing a new limb, is an urgent need due to the frequent devastating injuries from flying projectiles and explosion experienced by troops in combat.
During the second phase of AFIRM, the development of new technologies that involves printing of new skin cells that is applied onto burns, is being heavily focused on by WFIRM.
As mentioned above in this article, at the moment traditional methods are used where healthy skin is taken from other parts of the body and then grafted on to the wound as a protective and new layer. But this method is not possible or practical when large parts of the body have suffered burns and so skin grafting is limited.
However, during the initial phase of AFIRM the researchers at the Wake Forest Institute produced and implemented a printer that was capable of printing skin cells directly onto the injured site suffering the burns. The ink printing material that is made up of many types of cells, is customised on the nature of the injury or wound that is to be treated.
The process involves a scanner that is used to scan the wound. This results in recording the size and depth of the burn injury. The depth is very significant as the skin being a complex organ has different layers of skin cell types as you go deeper into the skin.
The data that has been collected after the scan will be used to give the printer instructions on what types of cells should be applied on each layer as the new skin is printed, which would be applied directly onto the burn injury site.
What is interesting is that unlike skin grafting, the skin printer only needs a sample of skin that is one 10th of the size of the wound to generate enough of the new skin cells for printing.
My understanding that the printer prototype is in a proof of concept stage but clinical trials on pigs and mice have been very successful. Scientists are awaiting the approval process to initiate human trials.
Wake Forest are hoping that they can start applying this new innovative technology within 5 years.
As you can see the kind of research that Wake Forest Institute is doing is very powerful and fascinating to put it mildly. I have only scratched the surface of what they are doing and we are going to see more reports of their amazing achievements as the years progress. Both in regards to limb regeneration, healing of damaged limbs and producing new organs, along with skin regeneration.
What is your take of this article on The Wake Forest Institute For Regenerative Medicine? How do you feel about their research into printing new skin? This will likely replace skin grafting with full regeneration of skin for burn victims.
Feel free to leave your comments and thoughts below.