U.S. Army Surgeon General Lt. Gen. Eric Schoomaker   (Source: Defense Department)
U.S. Department of Defense announces AFIRM with goal of using stem cell research to treat injured soldiers

Stem cell research is one of the most promising medical treatment modalities to be discovered and utilized in modern medicine. The problem for many when it comes to research isn’t the goals of using the stem cells to cure disease, but the fact that the best stem cells come from discarded human embryos.

The U.S. Department of Defense recently announced the newly established Armed Forces Institute of Regenerative Medicine (AFIRM) headed by the U.S. Army with participation form public universities and private institutions.  AFIRM has an operating budget for its first five years of $250 million with $80 million of the funding coming directly from the DoD. The remaining program funding comes from the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Veterans Affairs, as well as local public and private funding.

The goal of AFIRM is to harness stem cell research and technology to find new ways to use the patient’s cellular structure to reconstruct skin, muscles and tendons as well as replacing and regrowing extremities like ears, noses and fingers.

The U.S. Army surgeon general Lt. General Eric B. Schoomaker said at a news conference, “The cells that we’re talking about actually exist in our bodies today. We, even as adults, possess in our bodies small quantities of cells which have the potential, under the right kind of stimulation, to become any one of a number of different kinds of cells.”

Schoomaker points out that the human body routinely regenerates liver and bone marrow cells. Dr. Anthony Atala director of the Institute for Regenerative Medicine stated at the news conference, “All the parts of your body, tissues and organs, have a natural repository of cells that are ready to replicate when an injury occurs.”

Atala goes on to say that technicians can select cells from human donors and using a series of scientific processes can then use the cells to regrow new tissue. Atala continued, “Then, you can plant [the regenerated tissue] back into the same patient, thus avoiding rejection.”

Techniques being developed by AFIRM will be used to regrow tissue to make new muscles and tendons and for the repair or replacement of extremities like fingers, noses and ears.

Stem cell research is showing promise for treating many other previously incurable diseases. In February 2008 researchers used stem cells to treat diabetes in mice.

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