Medical magic: Scientists try to regrow fingers

Researchers are trying to find ways to regrow fingers and someday, even limbs with tricks that sound like magic spells from a Harry Potter novel.

There is the guy who sliced off a fingertip but grew it back, after he treated the wound with an extract of pig bladder. And the scientists who grow extra arms on salamanders. And the laboratory mice with the eerie ability to heal themselves.


This summer, scientists are planning to see whether the powdered pig extract can help injured soldiers regrow parts of their fingers. And a large federally funded project is trying to unlock the secrets of how some ani-mals regrow body parts so well, with hopes of applying the lessons to humans.

The implications for regrowing fingers go beyond the cosmetic. People who are missing all or most of their fingers, as from an explosion or a fire, often can’t pick things up, brush their teeth or button a button. If they could grow even a small stub, it could make a huge difference in their lives.

And the lessons learnt from studying regrowth of fingers and limbs could aid the larger field of regenerative medicine, perhaps someday helping people replace damaged parts of their hearts and spinal cords, and heal wounds and burns with new skin instead of scar tissue.

But that’s in the future. For now, consider the situation of Lee Spievack, a hobby-store salesman in Cincinnati, as he regarded his severed right middle finger one evening in August 2005.

He had been helping a customer with an engine on a model airplane behind the shop when the propellor sliced off the tip of his finger. The missing piece, about one centimetre long, was never found.

An emergency room doctor wrapped up the rest of his finger and sent him to a hand surgeon, who recommended a skin graft. What was gone, it appeared, was gone forever.

Spievack did have a major advantage a brother, Alan, a former Harvard surgeon who’d founded a company called ACell Inc, that makes an extract of pig bladder for promoting healing and tissue regeneration.

It helps horses regrow ligaments, for example, and the federal government has given clearance to market it for use in people. Similar formulations have been used in many people to do things like treat ulcers and other wounds and help make cartilage.

Lee Spievack took his brother’s advice to forget about a skin graft and try the pig powder. Soon a shipment of the stuff arrived and Lee Spievack started applying it every two days. Within four weeks his finger had regained its original length, he says, and in four months “it looked like my normal finger.”

Source:The Times Of India

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