The research team, headed by Ken Muneoka, professor of cell and molecular biology at Tulane University and a former UCI graduate student and researcher, is one of only two groups in the country to receive the DARPA grant aimed at tissue regeneration. UCI researchers involved in the project are Susan Bryant, dean of biological sciences; David Gardiner, research biologist in the development and cell biology department; Elizabeth Rugg, associate researcher of dermatology; and Douglas Wallace, Donald Bren Professor of Biological Sciences and Molecular Medicine. The group will begin their work this week with a meeting in Colorado.
The immediate goal of the DARPA grant is to find ways in which the body's natural healing process can be harnessed to heal deep wounds that involve bone, muscle, nerves and other soft tissues. To achieve this, the research group involving UCI will use the salamander and the mouse as models of how these two species deal differently with a severe wound injury such as the loss of a limb. Salamanders are the only adult vertebrate that can make a blastema, a mass of undifferentiated cells that have the ability to grow and recreate a limb.
The researchers will focus on recreating that regeneration process in a mouse model by making a blastema for the regeneration of a mouse finger. UCI's contribution to the project will include discovering how the process works in salamanders, looking at how to create a surface layer, or epidermis, to cover the blastema -- a crucial step for proper functioning -- and how to create mitochondria that are capable of supporting the function of the blastema cells. The hope is that success in a mammalian model such as the mouse will pave the way for better understanding the regenerative process in humans.
"The body has a great capacity for healing deep wounds, and we need to learn how to better harness this ability," said Bryant, who with longtime collaborator Gardiner has made a number of groundbreaking findings on the sequence of molecular events that lead to regeneration. "Of course, one of the most serious wounds a person can suffer is the loss of a limb. The grant from DARPA will allow this talented team to pursue a number of exciting research avenues that could lead to great breakthroughs in wound healing and ultimately, tissue and limb regeneration. This is particularly important given the large number of soldiers today who suffer from limb loss among major battlefield injuries."
Other collaborators on the project are Tanja Dominko, a researcher with CellThera Inc., and Eugenia Wang, professor at the University of Louisville. The DARPA grant is for one year and the agency could provide further funding for up to three years.
About the University of California, Irvine: The University of California, Irvine is a top-ranked university dedicated to research, scholarship and community service. Founded in 1965, UCI is among the fastest-growing University of California campuses, with more than 24,000 undergraduate and graduate students and about 1,400 faculty members. The second-largest employer in dynamic Orange County, UCI contributes an annual economic impact of $3.3 billion. For more UCI news, visit www.today.uci.edu.
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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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