As reported by WSOC TV and according to the U.S. Department of Defense, more than 33,000 servicemen and women have been injured in Iraq and Afghanistan. An important cause of injury and death are improvised exploding devices (IEDs), which are often planted in roadways or carried by suicide bombers to a targeted location. Soldiers who survive an IED explosion can have devastating injuries, from severe burns to traumatic brain injury and loss of limbs.
Now, researchers with the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine have teamed up with the Armed Forces Institute for Regenerative Medicine (AFRIM) to test the use of an extracellular matrix (ECM) regenerative medicine powder for soldiers who have lost body parts. First, the skin overlying the target area is removed. Then, the ECM, a type of tissue taken from a pig’s bladder, is placed on the tissue. The ECM may be in the form of a powder, gel, or hardened substance.
Stephen Badylak, D.V.M., M.D., Ph.D. is a Regenerative Medicine Researcher at the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine. He says, hopefully, once the ECM is in contact with the body, it will spur the growth of specific cells to form whatever tissue needs to be replaced, whether it’s bone, blood vessels, nerves, or other tissue.
The first soldier who volunteered to test the powder lost several fingers. After about 2 weeks, he says he started noticing the appearance of small bumps growing in the area. It’s only a small gain. However, Steven Wolf, M.D., a Surgeon with Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, TX, says even if doctors can replace a small portion of a lost finger, it will enable a patient to regain some grip and improve cosmetic appearance of the finger and hand.
Wolf says the regenerative medicine powder research is still very new. Scientists are trying to understand how the process works and how it can be improved. It will be quite some time before doctors can grow a complete limb or other body part. In the future, medics may be able to use it in the field to start treatment immediately after the injury. Other studies are looking at using the ECM powder to replace portions of muscle and the abdominal wall.
If the technology proves to be useful, regenerative medicine is expected to have a big market. Currently, there are more than 99,000 people on the U.S. transplant list waiting for a donor organ. In addition, the ability to grow replacement body parts may provide hope for the thousands of Americans suffering from chronic conditions, like diseases of the liver, kidney, heart, and lung.
Illustration: Microsoft clipart.
WSOC TV (10/03/08)
United States Army Institute of Surgical Research Medical Research and Materiel Command
Bio: Stephen Badylak, DVM, PhD, MD