Our George Christ, PhD, has received $3.6 million from the U.S. Department of Defense to develop a cutting-edge tool to help soldiers immediately after they are injured on the battlefield.
Professor Christ and his collaborator, Kevin Edward Healy at the University of California at Berkeley, are developing a "hydrogel" called Volumatrix that could change how we treat traumatic injuries both on the battlefield and off.
Ultimately, the researchers hope to refine the hydrogel until it's like a freeze-dried sponge. That way it could be carried in a medic's bag and placed directly in wounds. The sponge would soak up blood, conform to the shape of the wound, and even regenerate missing muscle.
That last part is key. Volumatrix, they hope, could regenerate missing muscle, something now impossible.
The team has already had success in initial tests of the material. Healy designed the hydrogel to use the body's natural ability to promote blood-vessel formation and tissue integration. Christ is adapting it for wound healing and large-scale muscle replacement.
“We have already created a gel that acts as a scaffolding for generating tissue," Professor Christ said. "But that doesn’t help soldiers in the field because the gel needs to be prepared and mixed prior to application, which presents obvious challenges in complex environments brought by combat."
A portable version of the hydrogel could help keep wounded soldiers mobile, increasing their chances to stay alive. That also would benefit the soldier's unit as a whole, as teamwork is essential on the battlefield.
But Christ and Healy's ambitions don't stop there.
“After we develop Volumatrix to repair muscle, it’s possible that we can tune the material to include even greater capabilities. For example, we might add antibiotics for preventing infections or additives for stimulating cellular growth,” Christ said. “In this fashion, we could facilitate and extend healing in a variety of ways – with the ambitious goal of complete functional recovery linked to faster return to duty or activity.”
Professor Christ is part of UVA's Department of Biomedical Engineering, a joint program of the School of Medicine and School of Engineering.