A team of researchers at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania (HUP), in partnership with colleagues at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), have been awarded a $2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD). The grant is part of the Restorative Transplantation Research Cooperative Agreement (RTR) – a $9.3 million consortium led by researchers at Emory University provided through the DoD’s Clinical and Rehabilitative Medicine Research Program. Grants awarded to the consortium will support research studies aimed at improving advanced transplant procedures for patients suffering traumatic injuries, such as limb loss and severe burns.

According to the American Society of Transplantation, over the last 10 years, more than 90 patients around the world have undergone procedures using vascularized composite allotransplantation (VCA), a highly specialized field of transplantation in which multiple tissues, such as muscle, bone, nerve and skin, are transplanted as a functional unit (e.g. a hand, or face). Of those receiving VCAs, 46 patients received 66 hand transplants, and 17 patients received face transplants. Together, these procedures have produced promising outcomes, allowing patients to regain functions vital to performing daily life activities. Given early success rates of VCA procedures, the ultimate goal for the studies funded under the new grant will be to elevate VCA to the level of an established therapy, thereby expanding the available options for patients with combat-related injuries who are in need of these complex procedures.

“VCA affords tremendous opportunity for patients suffering from the most traumatic injuries to regain function and experience a dramatically improved quality of life,” said L. Scott Levin, MD, FACS, chair of the Orthopaedic Surgery and professor of Surgery (Division of Plastic Surgery) at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. “However, these complex procedures require specialized skills from multi-disciplinary teams and intensive follow-up care for patients. With our grant, we hope to deliver new data-driven information that will fuel clinical practice guidelines for this emerging field of reconstructive surgery.”

Like most transplanted organs, limbs and other complex tissues transplanted with VCA are subject to rejection by the recipient. Over the course of four years, the new grant will allow the HUP and CHOP teams, led by Wayne W. Hancock, MBBS, PhD, chief of Transplant Immunology at CHOP and Dr. Levin at Penn Medicine, to investigate the biological processes responsible for rejection of the transplanted tissues. The teams will also seek to compare and contrast these processes with those known to impact solid organ rejection.

Other HUP investigators on the project include Matthew H. Levine, MD, PhD, Abraham Shaked, MD, PhD, Kim M. Olthoff, MD, and Paige M. Porrett, MD, PhD, from the Division of Transplant Surgery.

Other institutes awarded grants under this RTR consortium are: Emory University, The Scripps Research Institute, Louisville VCA Program (a collaboration between the Christine M. Kleinert Institute, the Kleinert Kutz Hand Care Center, the Cardiovascular Innovation Institute, the University of Louisville and Jewish Hosptial, Part of KentuckyOne Health), and the University of Maryland.

Penn Medicine is one of the world's leading academic medical centers, dedicated to the related missions of medical education, biomedical research, and excellence in patient care. Penn Medicine consists of the Raymond and Ruth Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania (founded in 1765 as the nation's first medical school) and the University of Pennsylvania Health System, which together form a $5.3 billion enterprise.

The Perelman School of Medicine has been ranked among the top five medical schools in the United States for the past 18 years, according to U.S. News & World Report's survey of research-oriented medical schools. The School is consistently among the nation's top recipients of funding from the National Institutes of Health, with $373 million awarded in the 2015 fiscal year.

The University of Pennsylvania Health System's patient care facilities include: The Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania and Penn Presbyterian Medical Center -- which are recognized as one of the nation's top "Honor Roll" hospitals by U.S. News & World Report -- Chester County Hospital; Lancaster General Health; Penn Wissahickon Hospice; and Pennsylvania Hospital -- the nation's first hospital, founded in 1751. Additional affiliated inpatient care facilities and services throughout the Philadelphia region include Chestnut Hill Hospital and Good Shepherd Penn Partners, a partnership between Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Network and Penn Medicine.

Penn Medicine is committed to improving lives and health through a variety of community-based programs and activities. In fiscal year 2015, Penn Medicine provided $253.3 million to benefit our community.

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