Ellen Heber-Katz, PhD, professor at the Lankenau Institute for Medical Research (LIMR), part of Main Line Health, and two colleagues were awarded a three-year grant from the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) for their further studies on a drug they developed that shows promise in regenerating nerves and tissue lost from amputation.
By 2050 approximately 3.6 million Americans will be living with the loss of a limb, most likely because of vascular disease and/or trauma. Dr. Heber-Katz made the surprising discovery in 1996 that a certain breed of laboratory mice can spontaneously regenerate lost tissue, similar to amphibians such as newts and salamanders. The mice don’t just heal, Dr. Heber-Katz discovered. Rather, their injured tissue spontaneously regenerates a perfect replica of lost tissue including hair follicles and cartilage, without scarring and with total replacement of normal tissue architecture and function.
Since that discovery, Dr. Heber-Katz and her colleagues followed various clues in their laboratory research and determined that a specific protein, HIF-1a, is the likely cause of the tissue regeneration. That led the team to create a drug that mimics the protein’s action.
“This new DOD grant will help us progress our scientific understanding of HIF-1a and enable us to work on advancing future treatments that could eventually regenerate entire limbs,” said Dr. Heber-Katz, an internationally renowned immunologist who investigates mammalian regeneration. “We are grateful for DOD’s support in this work, which may prove helpful for wounded warriors and others living with lost limbs.”
Dr. Heber-Katz’s colleagues on the grant, entitled “Drug-Induced Regeneration and Re-innervation in a Mouse Digit Amputation and Nerve Transection Model,” are Phillip Messersmith, PhD, of University of California, Berkeley; and Aviram Giladi, MD, of Curtis National Hand Center at MedStar Union Memorial Hospital, Baltimore.
For the research, DOD awarded LIMR $1.58 million, which will cover 88% of the project’s estimated cost. Non-governmental sources will fund $213,000, or 12%, of the project.