The U.S. Department of Defense awarded $3.8 million to a consortium working to develop stem cell-based therapies for patients with inherited skin diseases such as epidermolysis bullosa (EB) and for wound care.
The federal defense grant is to advance “discoveries in stem cell-created skin grafts into the manufacturing stage,” according to a news story in CU Anschutz Today, an online newsletter for the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus (CU Anschutz).
According to the goals of the grant, the Epidermolysis Bullosa (EB) iPS Cell Consortium will move production of stem cells into the Gates Biomanufacturing Facility at CU Anschutz.
Specifically, scientists from the consortium, which includes the Gates Center for Regenerative Medicine at the University of Colorado, will explore best manufacturing practices for the large-scale production of stem cell-created skin grafts.
“We are very excited to receive such a strong endorsement from the U.S. Department of Defense,” said Ganna Bilousova, PhD, a professor of dermatology at CU School of Medicine and member of the consortium, in the news story.
“It is extremely difficult to advance any type of novel therapies into the clinic without the benefit of compelling government interest and support,” Bilousova said.
The grant follows recent awards given to the same team by the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s 21st Century Cures Act. Besides EB, patients with other debilitating, chronic skin wounds may also benefit from the research conducted by the consortium.
A recent study from CU Anschutz’s EB researchers described a more efficient strategy to convert diseased skin cells into stem cells, which may be applicable for clinical translation, researchers observed.
According to the news story, Defense Department reviewers said the study is based on “the strongest cutting-edge scientific rationale in the field of wound care and dermatology. It is also a collaborative effort among top physician-scientists, scientists, health care providers, [EB] patients, families, and charities across the United States.”
One Defense Department evaluator wrote: “The proposed research has the highest probability of success of bringing gene-corrected tissue to patients in the hospital.”
The investigators are now aiming to test the technology in human clinical trials.
EB is a group of rare, inherited skin diseases characterized by skin blistering and scarring, and is often associated with debilitating pain. Symptoms usually start developing at a young age and range from mild to severe, depending on the specific genetic mutation causing the disease.