An Ohio man recently chopped off a part of his finger while playing with a model plane rotor. Luckily for Mr Lee Spievak, his brother Alan is a researcher within the field of regenerative medicine, and had access to Dr Stephen Badylak’s “pixie dust”, developed at the University of Pittsburgh.
The process [Dr Stephen Badylak] has been pioneering over the last few years involves scraping the cells from the lining of a pig’s bladder. The remaining tissue is then placed into acid, “cleaned” of all cells, and dried out.
It can be turned into sheets, or a powder. It looks like a simple process, but of course the science is complex.
“There are all sorts of signals in the body,” explains Dr Badylak. “We have got signals that are good for forming scar, and others that are good for regenerating tissues. “One way to think about these matrices is that we have taken out many of the stimuli for scar tissue formation and left those signals that were always there anyway for constructive remodelling.”
In other words when the extra cellular matrix is put on a wound, scientists believe it stimulates cells in the tissue to grow rather than scar.
If they can perfect the technique, it might mean one day they could repair not just a severed finger, but severely burnt skin, or even damaged organs.
More from the BBC with video of the patient and Dr Badylak explaining the production process…
UPDATE: A Note on Medical Pixie Dust