Can we regrow body parts? And if we can, how far can this go?
Ron Strang had a roadside bomb in Afghanistan blow off part of his left thigh while serving in Afghanistan. He thought he'd never walk again, He could move his leg backward, but not forward.
In the September 17th and 18th editions of the New York Times, Henry Fountain quotes Strang as saying, "I got really good at falling." But now he has received new thigh muscles that were transferred to his body on a thin sheet of material two years ago, after being grown on the scaffolding, called a cellular matrix, of a pig (pigs are surprisingly close to humans genetically). Now he walks easily and can even run on a treadmill.
The extracellular matrix, produced by cells, is the natural scaffolding that underlies all tissues and organs, in people as well as animals. Scientists used to think that its main role was to hold our organs in their proper position, but they now know that this scaffolding also signals the body to grow and repair those tissues and organs.
Meanwhile, surgeon Tracy Grikscheit is trying to find a way to make replacement intestines for premature infants whose own intestines never fully matured, using the body itself to nourish and push the engineered tissue to grow.
Fountain quotes her as saying, "The really fascinating thing is how to put something together that came out wrong and make it as right as possible. We have a huge problem that if we solve it, it will change the future for a lot of children." Fountain quotes soldier Strang as saying "If you know me, or know to look for it, you can see a slight limp, but everybody else, they go, 'I would never have guessed.'"
While there are certainly wonderful uses for this matrix, there's bad news as well: It's inevitable that body builders and athletes will use it to augment their musculature. Are we building machine men? Subscribers get to decide for themselves, because they have a coupon that gets them a beautiful hardcover novel about this for LESS than $5!