Human Muscle Regrown From Pig: Afghan War Veteran Walks Again


Muscle regeneration

Human muscle regrown in pig and used in Afghan veteran seen on New York Times.


Thanks to a pioneering new study funded by the Defense Department’s Office of Technology, researchers have been successful in growing human muscle from pig’s urinary bladder.

Leaders of the study, Dr. Peter Rubin, plastic surgeon at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and Dr. Stephen Badylak, deputy director of the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine carried on this groundbreaking new method on Sgt. Ron Strang, a 28 year old Afghan war veteran, who lost a large part of his left thigh in an explosion.  Even though post numerous surgeries, Sergeant Strang was able to walk, he had to give up on his active lifestyle, which included running. Life was never the same again, till this new technique of muscle regeneration was tried on him; now he can run the treadmill too.

The magic material, which has assisted in regrowth of muscle tissue, is the extracellular matrix.  For years scientists have believed that the extracellular matrix only functions as the framework for all the underlying tissues and organs. But, now they know that it is this extracellular matrix, which urges the body to grow and repair the tissues and organs. It is this crucial understanding, which has made the technique of muscle regeneration successful. Dr. Rubin told NY Times,

We are seeing evidence of remodeling of tissues.”

It is not that extracellular matrix from pigs, sheep and other animals have not been used before for repairing injuries. They have been, especially for cuff damage and hernias, but re-growth of muscle was tried for the first time.   In the current technique all the living cells are stripped off completely from the organ or tissue (to avoid rejection by the body) and the fine three-dimensional-mesh of proteins and other compounds that is left behind, is placed in contact with the healthy tissue. And that is when successful regrowth was noticed. For obvious reasons Sergeant Strang finds the whole procedure almost miraculous, for he is back to how he was before the war injury.

So can this technique be used for all who have lost vital muscle tissue? Well, yes and no. There are many hurdles to qualify for this procedure; the key among them is the presence of reasonable amount of undamaged nerves.

But, look at the positive; at least there is hope for those who do qualify. An 80-patient trial to grow limb muscle is on the anvil, and yes this will include not just war veterans but civilians too.

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