Severe burns and broken bones affect millions of people every year. Such traumatic injuries can forever alter a person’s life, especially if they are not treated swiftly and with the best care possible. Two innovative projects to advance treatment and recovery for both conditions have been selected as the winners of the third annual Stepping Strong Innovator Awards.
Michael Weaver, MD, of the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, and Reza Abdi, MD, of the Division of Renal Medicine, each will receive a $100,000 grant for their work on measuring bone healing and treating severe burn injuries, respectively.
The grants are funded by The Gillian Reny Stepping Strong Center for Trauma Innovation. Reny, a 2013 Boston Marathon bombing survivor, received lifesaving care at BWH after the bombings and established the center with her family to fuel research and clinical programs to advance trauma healing.
Weaver, program director of the Harvard Orthopaedic Trauma Fellowship at BWH, competed in a public voting competition that concluded on Oct. 17. More than 2,600 votes from all 50 states and 56 countries were cast in the competition. Weaver’s project, “21st Century Tools to Measure Bone Healing,” was one of five to emerge from the Stepping Strong Clinical Innovation Series in Trauma – a five-part series of events in which participants came together to define a problem, refine key issues and challenges and develop a solution.
Weaver’s project will focus on developing a way to quantify how much a bone has healed. His team – a collaboration between BWH and biomechanical specialists at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center – plans to measure microscopic changes in bone and how much motion occurs between the bone ends at a fracture site as it heals. Their ultimate goal is to test new treatments that could speed up bone healing.
“Anyone who has had a broken bone, or knows someone who has, knows how difficult the recovery process is,” Weaver said. “We want our project to spur the development of medications that can expedite the healing process and lead to quicker recovery.”
Abdi’s project, “New Hope for Trauma Patients with Severe Burn Injuries,” was selected by a committee at a closed-door session on Nov. 2. When patients suffer severe burn wounds, physicians must often rely on skin from a donor’s body to help heal and close a wound. But these donor grafts offer a temporary stopgap, as they are universally rejected, usually within 10 days. In collaboration with BWH’s Dennis Orgill, MD, PhD, Department of Surgery, and Ali Khademhosseini, PhD, of the Department of Medicine, Abdi is developing an implantable gel that can help extend the amount of time before skin grafts from donors are rejected, helping the patient survive through a critical period of recovery. The gel is embedded with adult stem cells that help temper the immune system’s response and prevent rejection of donor skin.
“We want to be able to help severe burn patients at a critical juncture,” said Abdi. “We’ve laid the groundwork, but this award will now allow us to optimize and improve outcomes and make our work as translational as possible.”