U.S. Department of Defense awards UA Little Rock $5.6 million grant to develop bone regeneration technology

Dr. Alexandru Biris is chief scientist and director of the Center for Integrative Nanotechnology Sciences at UA Little Rock.

The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) has awarded the University of Arkansas at Little Rock a $5.6 million grant to advance the NuCress™ scaffold, a groundbreaking bone regeneration technology.

The grant brings together an interdisciplinary team from UA Little Rock, led by principal investigator Dr. Alex Biris; the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, led by Dr. David Anderson; and the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS), led by Dr. Mark Smeltzer.

Biris and Anderson have worked together since 2006 to develop this pioneering medical device. The NuCress™ scaffold is in the final stages of moving from the laboratory to the surgical theater, with potential future uses in both military and civilian hospitals. The new award from the DOD’s Joint Warfighter Medical Research Program will help facilitate this transition by funding critical go-to-market research.

U.S. Sen. John Boozman, who supported the UA Little Rock proposal to the DOD and was instrumental in securing federal funding for the project’s earlier research, congratulated the team on the award.

“Bone regeneration technology is so important to the recovery of our warfighters from severe injuries,” Boozman said. “UA Little Rock and its partners have made tremendous progress taking this novel nanotechnology solution from the laboratory to the point of clinical trials.”

The NuCress™ scaffold is an implantable device that promotes controlled, robust bone regeneration in fractures, gaps where bone is missing, and major injury defects, including previously untreatable catastrophic injuries. The device degrades as the bone regenerates, potentially eliminating the need for multiple surgeries-a major source of complications in current bone gap treatments.

“I’m thrilled to see over a decade of collaborative work result in this continued DOD support, and I look forward to seeing it develop into a clinically beneficial product,” said Biris, director of the UA Little Rock Center for Integrative Nanotechnology Sciences.

Related Story: UA Little Rock researchers pioneer device to speed bone regeneration

Such a device is in high demand by a wide variety of people, including wounded soldiers, victims of major accidents and trauma, and patients with bone disease.

“The NuCress™ scaffold is a game-changing technology that will revolutionize treatment of bone diseases because it is capable of simultaneously promoting bone regeneration and delivering antibiotics, growth factors, and cell-based therapies,” Anderson said.

UA Little Rock Chancellor Christina Drale said the grant will help the Center for Integrative Nanotechnology Sciences fulfill its mission to accelerate world-class innovations in nanotechnology into practical applications that will benefit society.

“This new funding from the Department of Defense will help our research team fulfill that mission in this particularly exciting area of nanotechnology for medical applications,” Drale said.

Studies funded by past DOD awards proved the scaffold’s versatility and ability to regenerate large, missing segments of bone. The new, four-year DOD award will support pre-market work, including manufacturing and U.S. Food and Drug Administration clearance. If successful, the project will allow the scaffold to move toward clinical trials, validate its utility for clinicians, and develop a new market application for treating infection.

Smeltzer, the research team’s infection expert, looks forward to this new market potential.

“Infection is a dreaded complication of traumatic bone injury, and the ability to incorporate antibiotics into the NuCress™ scaffold offers the tremendous added benefit of preventing infection in a contaminated bone defect without compromising its bone regenerative properties,” Smeltzer said.

The U.S. Army Medical Research Acquisition Activity, 839 Chandler Street, Fort Detrick, MD 21702-5014 is the awarding and administering acquisition office. This work is supported by the Department of Defense, through the Joint Warfighter Medical Research Program under Award No. W81XWH1920014. Opinions, interpretations, conclusions and recommendations are those of the author and are not necessarily endorsed by the Department of Defense.

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