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Dr. Wong in Washington, D.C. to report on bone tissue regeneration research

Friday, March 30, 2012 - 1:04pm

With Dr. Mark Wong (far right) at the U.S. Navy Regenerative Medicine Symposium in Washington, D.C. are Col. Robert Hale (center) and General Joseph Dunford, Jr., assistant commandant of the Marine Corps.

With Dr. Mark Wong (far right) at the U.S. Navy Regenerative Medicine Symposium in Washington, D.C. are Col. Robert Hale (left) and General Joseph Dunford, Jr., assistant commandant of the Marine Corps.

Dr. Mark Wong, chair of the Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, was among researchers invited to the U.S. Navy Regenerative Medicine Symposium in Washington, D.C. earlier this month to report on advances in craniofacial tissue regeneration.  The symposium, attended by military leadership, focused on current capabilities and future direction in regenerative medicine. 

Colonel Robert Hale, commander of the Dental and Trauma Research Detachment, U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research, also presented on this subject.

The University of Texas School of Dentistry is part of a research consortium led by Wake Forest University and the University of Pittsburgh that also includes Rice University, Stanford, Georgia Tech, Tufts and Johns Hopkins. Along with Dr. Anthony Mikos at Rice, Wong is co-director of the Craniofacial Program for the consortium, which is supported by a federal grant through the Armed Forces Institute for Regenerative Medicine (AFIRM).

Wong said the Craniofacial Program currently has four studies under way, each focusing on a different part of the face. In Houston, the focus is on regenerating bone using the patient’s own cells cultured within a chamber that can develop its own blood supply, resulting in vascularized bone tissue to implant into a wound that has been kept from deformed healing by use of a plastic “spacer.”

War injuries have created a huge need for better treatments, and Wong said the government has just announced a second round of funding for regenerative tissue engineering. “AFIRM II” will expand its focus to work on face, arm and hand transplants, as well as genitourinary reconstruction – all made necessary because of devastating injuries from IEDs (improvised explosive devices) so common in the current Middle East conflicts.

Wong also said AFIRM has changed things for researchers in several ways.

While most NIH grants support basic science research, AFIRM wants to fund technologies that
can be ready quickly for clinical testing following FDA approval. This mandate has forced researchers to seek ways to accelerate the translation of bench-to-clinic studies.  “We’re looking for good science that can be turned into practical science,” Wong said.

Having multiple institutions collaborate saves time and offsets the tendency to guard projects and results, he said.  Thanks to online meetings, conference calls and collaboration software, everyone in the group sees the work, and “everybody is aware of what you’re doing, so it’s unlikely anyone would try to take undue credit,” Wong added.

Having multiple research sites — and multiple Congressional districts — involved also makes it easier to get support in Washington, he said.

Also participating in the symposium were Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps, General Joseph Dunford Jr.; Chief of Staff of the Marine Corps, Lt. General Willie Williams, and the Surgeon General of the Navy, Vice Admiral Matthew Nathan.