By USAMRMC Public Affairs
“When warriors come back from the battlefield with serious life-changing injuries, it is our job to find new and innovative ways to help them.”
FORT DETRICK, Md. – The Armed Forces Institute of Regenerative Medicine (AFIRM): Warrior Restoration Consortium, under the Wake Forest University School of Medicine (Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center) entered into a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command (USAMRMC), the Office of Naval Research, the Air Force Medical Service, the Office of Research and Development – Department of Veterans Affairs, the National Institutes of Health, and the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs.
The AFIRM II program will focus on five key areas: extremity regeneration, craniomaxillofacial regeneration, skin regeneration, composite tissue allotransplantation and immunomodulation, and genitourinary/lower abdomen reconstruction.
Therapies developed by the AFIRM II program are intended to aid traumatically injured service members and civilians. The goals of the program include funding basic through translational regenerative medicine research, and to position promising technologies and therapeutic/restorative practices for entrance into human clinical trials.
“When warriors come back from the battlefield with serious life-changing injuries, it is our job to find new and innovative ways to help them,” said Maj. Gen. Joseph Caravalho Jr., commanding general USAMRMC and Fort Detrick. “Ultimately, we’d like to create new treatments to repair these severe injuries as if they never happened. The science of regenerative medicine is one of the ways we fulfill our promise to service members who put themselves in harm’s way— that we will work our hardest and do our very best to take care of them.”
The original AFIRM cooperative agreements, awarded in 2008, focused on limb repair, craniofacial repair, burn repair, scarless wound repair, and compartment syndrome. Research under the AFIRM was conducted through two independent research consortia working with the U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research Fort Sam Houston, TX.
One research consortium was led by Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, and the Cleveland Clinic (Rutgers-Cleveland Clinic Consortium) while the other was led by Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center and The McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine in Pittsburgh (Wake Forest – Pittsburgh Consortium).
SGT Brendan Marrocco was the first service member during the Iraq War to survive a quadruple limb amputation, and now he’s the recipient of new arms, thanks to the first double-arm transplant at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, MD, which took place Dec. 18, 2012.
Marrocco was the beneficiary of research that’s been conducted since 2008 by the Armed Forces Institute of Regenerative Medicine (AFIRM), which has been bringing together the world’s leading scientists and physicians from academia and industry to develop innovative medical solutions to fully restore Warriors with traumatic injuries. AFIRM is managed and funded through the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command, which, along with the Department of Defense has provided and managed more than $6.5 million in hand transplant research—including sponsoring SGT Marrocco’s transplant.
“A team of physicians and nurses helped to restore the physical and psychological well-being of someone most deserving,” said Dr. W.P. Andrew Lee, director of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine’s Department of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, and head of the team that performed the transplant. “Brendan Marrocco had lost both arms and both legs serving our country nearly four years ago.”
Marrocco, a sergeant in the U.S. Army, sustained his injuries in late October 2009 when an explosively formed penetrator entered his vehicle. With advances in protective equipment, battlefield evacuation and medical care, service members are surviving injuries that would previously have resulted in death, and they are learning how to live without one or more limbs. Recent advances in regenerative medicine provide hope to these service members who look toward a future where they may once again have arms and hands that they can use.
“[Marrocco’s] hope to lead a normal life has been boosted by the first double-arm transplant at Johns Hopkins,” said Lee.
The DOD invests in medical research and development efforts that have the most promising ability to benefit our troops injured in combat.
“Hand transplants, such as the bi-lateral procedure performed on Sgt. Marrocco, have the potential to restore not just function but also quality of life for our injured service members,” said Dr. Smita Bhonsale, deputy director for Science and Technology for the AFIRM.
“It’s such a big thing for my life and it is just fantastic,” said Marrocco at the Johns Hopkins Press Conference Jan. 29. “It has given me a lot of hope for the future.”
Marrocco, now 26 years old, continues to maintain a positive attitude and is looking forward to reaching for the goals he has set for himself and taking his ambitions as far as he can.
“One of my goals is to hand-cycle a marathon,” said Marrocco.
While the road to more functional use of his arms will be slow, Marrocco is confident that he will get there.
“The nerves regenerate at the maximum speed of one inch per month,” said Lee. “Considering where we did the transplant, and where the nerves are connected, there are many, many inches and indeed many, many months – a couple years for that matter – before function will return.”
Marrocco and Lee closed out the press conference with a message to fellow amputees to not give up hope. Advances in medicine are made every day.
The AFIRM continues to support advances in regenerative medicine, generating hope for injured service members.