The Oprah Show recently featured the science and technology of today’s regenerative medicine efforts on its show entitled, “High-Tech Ways to Extend Your Life.” In one segment, audiences were introduced to extracellular matrix, or ECM, and how it heals the body. The use of ECM for the repair of soft tissues was pioneered by Stephen Badylak, DVM, PhD, MD (pictured), Deputy Director of the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine
, Director of the Pre-Clinical Studies Center at the McGowan Institute, and Research Professor in the University of Pittsburgh’s Department of Surgery. Dr. Badylak’s ECM technologies have permitted others to offer innovative solutions to unique and challenging tissue regeneration needs.
In the 1980s, Dr. Badylak identified the importance of ECM, which harbors signaling molecules that help direct the development of cells into tissue, during a preclinical experiment in which he used a portion of an intestine to fashion a makeshift aorta for a heart. Not only was the surgery successful, but months later, an examination revealed that the transplanted intestine part had morphed into a vessel that looked much like an aorta. Somehow, it had sensed where it was in the body and had remodeled itself to take on the structural traits of an aorta. There was hardly any scarring.
Subsequent research has helped Dr. Badylak and his colleagues understand the mechanisms behind this remarkable tissue remodeling. That research used a layer of intestinal lining called the submucosa, a form of a biological scaffold to support new tissue growth. Dr. Badylak's team found that extracting the submucosa from the intestine and putting patches of it at injury sites triggered a novel healing response: As the implanted matrix material broke down, healthy living tissue, not scar tissue, repaired the damage. Matrix from bladders, liver, and other organs induced a similar reaction.
The matrix, considered a medical device by the Food and Drug Administration, is now commonly used in rotator-cuff procedures, achilles-tendon repairs, and hernia repairs. Over 1,500,000 patients world-wide have benefited by some form of this matrix.
Featured on Oprah was the story of a 70-year-old hobby shop owner, Lee Spievack, who accidentally lopped about three-eighths of an inch off the top of his middle finger on the propeller of a model airplane. A novel treatment was devised by Spievack’s brother, using ECM technology that was based on the Badylak concept. The powdered form of ECM was applied to the end of the severed finger every other day for 10 days; in 4 weeks, the wound was healed. In 4 months the finger resembled the original finger prior to the accident.
Today, Dr. Badylak’s laboratory is a highly interdisciplinary environment. The major focus of the laboratory is the development of regenerative medicine strategies for tissue and organ replacement. The use of mammalian ECM or its derivatives as an inductive template for constructive remodeling of tissue is a common theme of most research activities in the Badylak Lab. The goal of all projects is clinical translation and improved patient care.
Illustration: McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine.
The Oprah Show (03/24/09)
Bio: Dr. Stephen Badylak