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Rebuilding Cells With Extracellular Matrix; How A Pig's Bladder Can Regenerate A Limb

Updated on September 23, 2015

Salamanders are a wonder of nature. They do not develop a scab over a wound but instead they regenerate. Humans, however, scab over which prevents any regeneration, but instead promotes scarring. It was this parallel that got researchers thinking about the possible applications if they could discover how to harness that regenerative powers, just like the salamander.

Dr. Stephen Badylak of the University of PIttsburgh is the senior study author and professor of surgery. He, and other researchers, implanted extracellular matrix into the legs of five patients. The body generated new tissue due to the extracellular matrix triggering the release of tissue-creating stem cells to the area. Three of the five participants experienced significant results only six months after surgery; 20% increase in strength and 25% in mobility.

"Most of these people have been through hell," Dr. Stephen Badylak said. "The things that you and I take for granted-getting out of a chair, taking steps, getting off a curb, getting out of the car-these are the types of deficits that these individuals had."

Corporal Isais Hernandez shows off his healing thigh muscles
Corporal Isais Hernandez shows off his healing thigh muscles

Muscle makes up 40% of the body and is able to regenerate. Although when a large part of the muscle is missing, or rather ripped from the body, it is harder to regenerate. It scabs over instead. Extracellular matrix (ECM) is a web of long protein that serves as a scaffolding for living tissue. This is where the pig's bladder comes into the picture. ECM is tissue taken from a pig's bladder, although the molecules are found in all multicellular organisms.

Dr. Stephen Badylak of University of Pittsburgh holding a sheet of extracellular matrix.
Dr. Stephen Badylak of University of Pittsburgh holding a sheet of extracellular matrix.

When the ECM starts to degrade it releases peptides which act as a beacon for the stem cells. That is when they come to the area to rebuild. The ECM had to be washed with chemicals to remove the cells before use, which only left behind the lattice of protein molecules. This prevented the body's immune system from attacking the foreign tissue. The only drawback is that the stem cells could turn into cartilage, fat, bone or muscle. It had to be coached, which meant immediate action. The ECM was placed right under the tension and physical therapy ensued two days after surgery. This helped the tissue to understand what it was suppose to do.

This process has even helped people regenerate fingers. What is remarkable is when the fingerprint turns out to be an exact match to the previous finger. Fingers are complex body parts anyhow with bones, tissue, and nerves.

The tissue from the pig's bladder is washed, dried out and mashed up into a fine powder. This powder can be put straight onto the wound and have the exact same effect. It truly is a miraculous discovery. This is an innovative discovery that will help many people. New doors are opening and everyone should be excited for what is to come next!


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