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Visions of human organs being grown in a lab, and body parts that grow back, sounds like the latest science fiction thriller, but it’s happening now! The ability to regrow organs and tissues may soon revolutionize medicine, according to a story by Wyatt Andrews, of CBS news. When Lee Spievack’s hobby airplane propeller cut off his fingertip, he called his brother, Alan, a research scientist, in the field of medicine. Alan sent Lee a special powder to sprinkle on the wound, and much to Lee’s amazement the fingertip grew back. (We are not talking about sewing the fingertip back on. We are talking about regrowing the fingertip, including fingernail, vessels, blood and skin.) Amazing as it sounds, Lee has a new fingertip. This incredible potential to regrow organs and tissues, has made regenerative medicine one of the most exciting fields of research.

Dr. Steven Badylak, of the University of Pittsburgh’s McGowan Institute of Regenerative Medicine, explains that the powder sent to Lee was called extra cellular matrix–a mixture of protein and connective tissues made from pig bladders. Surgeons use it to restore tendons. It signals the body to start the process of regrowing tissues, and then helps it decide what type of tissue it should grow, depending on the area of the body where it is placed. Dr. Badylak believes that this could lead to the ability to regrow a missing limb. He is also preparing to use esophagus-shaped matrix material in patients with throat cancer, believing that the body will regrow new tissue.

When visiting the lab of Dr. Anthony Atala, at Wake Forest University, North Carolina, you might think you’re in Dr. Frankenstein’s world. Dr. Atala grows body parts in what he refers to as a “medical factory.” He and his staff have 18 different kinds of tissue that have been created from the cell level. This tissue is growing, and includes whole organs, muscle tissue, and even the heart valve of a sheep. Their plan is to make body parts that can be implanted into humans. Regenerative medicine operates on the premise that every type of tissue has cells that are capable of regeneration, if programmed correctly. Dr. Atala is confident that it won’t be long before the science will exist to grow a human heart.

In a clinical trial, (utilizing the procedure created by Dr. Atala), Dr. Patrick Shenot (Thomas Jefferson Hospital, Philadelphia) has attempted a bladder transplant, using an organ that was created from the patient’s own cells. The cells were grown in the laboratory and then placed on a biodegradable frame, shaped like a bladder. After 8 weeks, millions of cells regrew on the frame, and it was then transplanted into the patient. When the form of the organ dissolves, believe it or not, what will (hopefully) be left is a new, working organ.

The United States military is particularly excited about this new research, and hopes that it will help to regrow organs and tissues (limbs, skin, and muscle) of wounded soldiers. Dr. Steven Wolf, of the Army Institute of Surgical Research, feels there’s a possibility of being able to regrow a leg or an arm. In the future, perhaps there won’t be a need for prosthetic limbs. Millions of dollars have been bankrolled by the military for regenerative medicine research. For burn victims it could provide a way to replace skin without all the horrible scarring that occurs with traditional skin grafts. Injured soldiers will be the first to receive this revolutionary “miracle” treatment.

Regenerative medicine research is a global effort. In a test trial in Germany, a machine has been devised that can spray a patient’s own cells on a burn, which hopefully, will result in the regrowth of the tissue. In America, many are willing to invest in the technology that could bring about the mass production of body parts. (Consider all the people with physical disabilities, who could have new hope, with a regenerative limb or organ.)

Mary Beth Babo is involved in a study at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Her own stem cells have been injected into her heart. Doctors are extremely hopeful that she will grow new arteries. This would be an incredible advancement, and would lessen the need for open heart surgery, and all the complications that arise from it.

One factory, The Tengion Company, is already making the bladders mentioned previously. They believe that instead of waiting for years to get a donated transplant organ, a patient will send their own cells to a lab for a few weeks, and have their own body part regrown. When you think of all the people on organ donor waiting lists, and then you consider the potential of this regenerative medicine research, the possibilities are amazing.

Of course, the other side to this coin, is that scientists could find a way to make man immortal, by having the body regrow all the worn out organs and tissues. This would seriously be going against Mother Nature. Our bodies are programmed to live, reproduce, and then die. According to scientists, aging and death are actually programmed into our genes. From the beginning of our lives, our cells divide and multiply. Old or damaged cells are replaced with new ones. But at some point, the body loses its ability to repair itself, and we begin to experience the devastating effects of old age diseases. Is it possible that scientists could carry this experimentation to the point of full body regeneration? The body would constantly be renewing itself. Scientists are already speculating on what year we will see the first immortal human. (To me, that’s scary stuff.) What about population control, and having the necessary resources to sustain people living forever? What if only a few could afford the procedures? And for those of us with spiritual beliefs, when would we go to heaven, if we lived forever? These are compelling questions. One thing is for sure, as science heads down the yellow brick road of regeneration, the ethical questions will abound.


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  1. Dear,

    My wife is 5 month pregnent and today we have came to know by scanning that child is having short lower limb.The fetal right lower limb is short with normally developed femur,the tibia & fibular are not developed with shortening below knee level & anomalus,curved foot.The fetal left lower limb is normal.

    Please advise us is there any hope for growing new limb for child.

    Your early reply will be highly appreciated.

    Thanking you
    Kartik Dave

  2. Hi Kartik Dave: I am so sorry to say that I am not a medical professional, and sadly, I can’t help with that kind of information. I believe that all the regenerative medicine is in the early stages, and is not yet (for the most part) out of the testing phases.
    I am very sorry to hear about the baby’s leg, and I will pray for your baby and family.
    Perhaps you could consult with a physician about what could be done after the child is born. I wish I had more information, but I just did online research and wrote this article. I thought the part about regrowing the fingertip that had been cut off was truly amazing! It does seem that before long, there will be many new and wonderful options available. God bless you! Lonnette

  3. I hope the developments come about relatively soon in that it will allow amputees to grow back missing body parts since we are having so many military personel come back as amputees.

  4. I don’t know how often you check up on this article and it’s comments. I am a college student and I am currently researching this particular topic for a paper and I would have loved to use this article as a source but alas there is no author, your name is not written anywhere only your first appears in some comments you left, so due to lack of source information I cannot to my dismay use this article for my paper and my search continues for good information and all source info. So for future reference it would be nice for the sake of students in search of good info and full source info including the name of the author. Otherwise who knows who wrote this and I’m sure you would like credit where credit is due.

  5. Dear,

    When I became an amputee, I was 12. I became an amputee because of bone cancer.

    Please advise me if there is any hope for growing a new limb

    • I am sorry to say that I am not a medical professional, and therefore cannot advise you on this subject. It seems that all the research in this area is in the beginning stages, but it looks promising for the future. May God bless you-Lonnette

  6. Anyway, thanks for sharing with me. Cos i was researching on this topic

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