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Local researchers get $1.4 million grant to study use of composites to aid battlefield wounds

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Wednesday, August 31, 2011, at 11:23 a.m.
  • Updated Wednesday, August 31, 2011, at 7:36 p.m.

A $1.4 million grant from the Department of Defense for the research and development of a device to stabilize fractures on the battlefield has a lot of commercial potential as well, officials from the National Institute for Aviation Research at Wichita State University and the Center of Innovation for Biomaterials in Orthopaedic Research said Wednesday.

NIAR and CIBOR announced Wednesday that they had received the grant, which is aimed at developing a composite device that will stabilize serious fractures while reducing the number of amputations that follow such injuries sustained in combat.

“This is extremely good news for CIBOR in terms of this is the first involvement in large-scale federal funding,” said Paul Wooley, CIBOR’s chief scientific officer.

The medical composites research and development group was originally founded in 2006 by a group of scientists and executives at WSU and Via Christi. Its goal through CIBOR is to create a medical composites industry.

NIAR and CIBOR researchers’ goal for the Defense Department grant is to develop a device made of composites that’s easy to carry, will work in hot and cold and wet and dry environments, and will harden immediately to eliminate any unintentional movement of a fractured limb.

“We are basically going to invent an external fixation device that will do all these things,” said John Tomblin, NIAR executive director.

At the same time, researchers will look at ways for the device to deliver an antibacterial agent externally that will minimize or eliminate the possibility of the injury becoming infected.

“This eventually is to become a front-line drug delivery device,” Wooley said.

That’s an important part of the device, Wooley and Tomblin said, because many amputations caused by battlefield wounds occur not because of the original injury, but from moving a limb with fractured bones that are sharp. Those bones tear blood vessels, nerves and tissue when they are moved.

If they are successful — the grant calls for the researchers to develop and create a successful prototype for the Army in two years — the device could also end up in civilian use, such as on ambulances and in the backpacks of hikers and climbers, Wooley and Tomblin said.

“We get to keep all the IP (intellectual property) to that,” Tomblin said.

He added that successful development of the product could lead to the spinoff of a Kansas-based company manufacturing these devices.

Wooley said such a device has been talked about by his colleagues at Via Christi long before WSU submitted the grant proposal.

Reach Jerry Siebenmark at 316-268-6576 or jsiebenmark@wichitaeagle.com.

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