Winston-Salem, NC -- Almost 50,000 American servicemen and women have been wounded while serving our country in Afghanistan and Iraq. Of those, nearly 450 are from North Carolina.
At the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine (WFIRM), doctors are researching ways to help these wounded warriors.
"It's a very simple concept, we're trying to repair these massive muscle loss injures."explains Dr. George Christ, WFIRM.
Wake Forest joins 34 universities on a more than $300 million mission to change the way wounded soldiers are treated on the battlefield.
"The same way you exercise in a gym, we exercise these [muscles] in a laboratory," explains Dr. Christ.
Dr. Christ is the lead researcher for a project on muscle reconstruction. When these muscles are implanted into the body, the chances of healing are much greater, actually 70 to 80% greater, but that's just the beginning.
"This is something that maybe can be injected into the muscle, provide a water-based source of oxygen." Dr. Christ hopes an oxygen gel they're developing can be applied to open wounds on the battlefield and save limbs, and maybe even lives because it buys the soldier crucial time keeping tissue alive until surgery.
"I hope someday we'll be thinking about the next generation of things and people can go 'wow'," said Christ.
Staff Sergeant Dale Beatty is already impressed. Eight years ago, Beatty was wounded while serving in Iraq.
"We were providing security for another unit and we got to the turnaround point for the mission and were returning to our case and on the side of the road in the gravel, there were two anti-tank land mines," explains Beatty. "All the pain, worrying about dying, asking the Lord to just please let me get home and see my boys again," remembers Beatty. "I looked down and saw the right boot sole, the bottom of my boot, right about here, and I knew I was in a bad way right about that point."
Beatty lost both of his legs that day. The research being done at WFIRM may never help him, but he has hope it will help future wounded soldiers.
"I'm glad to know, somebody in Wake Forest, not too far from here, is working on that stuff."
In 2008, the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine was selected to co-lead the federally funded Armed Forces Institute for Regenerative Medicine. At Wake Forest, doctors and researchers are working on a project to using ink jet technology to print skin cells onto burn wounds, another project to stretch and grow skin cells in the lab to create skin for burns and reconstructive projects, and another treatment that sprays a patient's own skin cells onto a burn as an alternative to grafting.
These projects are in addition to the muscle implant and oxygen-producing gel. In the next couple years, Dr. Christ hopes to use the muscle implant therapy in a clinical trial on young patients with cleft lip. Several years down the road, the ultimate goal of the institution is to regenerate human limbs.
WFMY News 2