GHSU launches new institute for regenerative, reparative medicine

By: News released from the officers of the Georgia Health Sciences University
By: News released from the officers of the Georgia Health Sciences University
Drs. Carlos Isales (left) and Mark Hamrick are co-directors of GHSU's new Institute for Regenerative and Reparative Medicine

Drs. Carlos Isales (left) and Mark Hamrick are co-directors of GHSU's new Institute for Regenerative and Reparative Medicine. (WDRW-TV / Aug. 12, 2011)

Friday, Aug. 12, 2011

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- A new institute for regenerative and reparative medicine is working to help the body repair itself as it grows synergy between GHSU and the community.

Initiatives include regrowing bone and cartilage lost to age or injury as well as jawbones destroyed in car accidents or war zones.

"We want to focus on the continuum of care, not only basic research and development to identify a new drug that may be used to enhance bone-healing after a fracture or muscle regeneration after injury, but all the way to rehabilitation," said Dr. Mark Hamrick, GHSU bone biologist and Research Development Director for the new institute.

The institute cuts across specialty and institutional boundaries to expand studies of diseases or injuries that impact the muscles and skeleton, the central nervous system and the head and neck. Partners include Savannah River National Laboratory, Dwight D. Eisenhower Army Medical Center, Charlie Norwood Veterans Affairs Medical Center and the University of Georgia.

GHSU has provided $750,000 for the institute's start-up and has nearly $20 million in existing external funding from groups such as the National Institutes of Health and Department of Defense to support these research areas.

Dr. Carlos Isales, GHSU endocrinologist and the Institute's Clinical Translation Director, considers the institute an "effector" that will help translate laboratory findings to better patient care, including a significant number of projects that should directly benefit wounded soldiers.

It also will be a catalyst for spinning off bio-tech companies that bring high-paying, high-skill jobs to the Augusta area. Experience shows that home growing these economically desirable companies is cheaper than buying them, Isales said.

The institute fits GHSU President Ricardo Azziz's plans to help make Augusta a destination point for health care and biomedical science, the researchers said.

"We want the Augusta region to be recognized for this expertise," said Hamrick, GHSU Interim Vice President for Research. It also fits global efforts at personalizing health care.

"We already have molecules we can mix with a piece of bone we take out of your mouth to stimulate bone to grow more quickly," said Dr. Connie Drisko, Dean of the GHSU College of Dental Medicine.

"I think at some point you will have the ability to regrow your own natural bone, your own teeth, your own tissue, including periodontal ligaments to hold your teeth into the bone. All that science is emerging and we have to be a part of that," said Drisko, a big supporter of the institute that is bringing people together from GHSU's five colleges and beyond.

Dr. George G. Wicks, Consulting Scientist at Savannah River National Laboratory, is excited as well about how enhanced synergy will ultimately benefit patients.

"(The institute) presents opportunities to apply our skills in exciting new, interdisciplinary, collaborative research efforts leading to new and improved techniques and tools for medical research and ultimately, improved capabilities for clinicians," Wicks said.

The applied research and development laboratory at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Savannah River Site brings expertise in fields such as materials science, digital radiography, mechanical engineering, micro/nanotechnology, computation and simulation, nuclear physics and chemistry, and microbiology.

Dr. Joseph Wood, Chief of Eisenhower's Department of Clinical Investigation is confident the new institute will increase the volume and pace of collaborative studies.

"Pulling all these efforts together is within the strategic best interest of all the institutions as well as the community and patients," Wood said.

He noted that while Eisenhower's studies focus on war-related maladies, the civilian population also will benefit. As examples, the hospital is collaborating with GE and GHSU's Center for Telehealth to explore whether noninvasive sensors that track sleep and movement can help quantify sleep patterns in soldiers with posttraumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injuries.

Most soldiers with these problems self-report trouble falling and staying asleep, but objectively identifying the problem is an important first step toward optimal treatment, Wood said.

As part of the same study, they are examining the levels of pituitary hormones since deficiencies are sometimes seen in civilians with traumatic brain injuries but have not been reported in soldiers.

Hormone deficiencies can produce many of the same symptoms such as sleep disturbances, mood disorders, sexual dysfunction and cognitive difficulties. Another new area of research is exploring the potential of hyperbaric oxygen therapy for these brain injuries. Eisenhower also has basic science studies focusing on wound healing in soft tissue, bone and nerve injury models.

"The facility and staff at Eisenhower offer unique expertise and capabilities in combat-related injuries where regenerative medicine affords great promise to improving care in wounded warriors," Wood said.

Other innovative initiatives have paired Dr. Ulf M.E. Wikesjö, Interim Associate Dean for Research and Enterprise at the GHSU College of Dental Medicine with Dr. Steven L. Stice, a Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar in the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, who use stem cells to regenerate periodontal tissue. Isales and Hamrick are leading a team to keep aging stem cells making strong bone instead of fat.

GHSU Neuroscientist Krishnan Dhandapani is exploring the traumatic brain injury-protection potential of curcumin, the biologically active ingredient that makes the spice turmeric yellow, and the dye brilliant blue.

Short term, many of the projects will focus on exploring new uses of existing resources, such as curcumin, Isales said. But longer term, the institute will discover and make new materials to help the body heal.

"This is an evolution," he noted, and a bit of a revolution as well as clinicians acknowledge the limitations of some current therapies and the need more biologically savvy approaches with fewer side effects.

"This next step includes trying to give people back what they had before," Drisko said. This likely will one day mean using gene or stem cell therapy to fill in the facial deformities of a child or to grow teeth and complete a smile.


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