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jueves, 1 de mayo de 2008

'Pixie dust' makes man's severed finger regrow

A man who lost the tip of his finger in an accident claims that it has regrown after he sprinkled it with a powder created from a pig’s bladder.

Lee Spievak, from Ohio, lost part of his middle finger three years ago after it was hit by the propeller of a model airplane at the toy shop where he worked.

He said that doctors told him that it would never grow back. Yet Mr Spievak, 69, once again has all of his finger thanks, he claims, to a magic “pixie dust”.

The powder was produced by the company owned by Mr Spievak’s brother, Alan. It is technically known as extra cellular matrix and was pioneered by Dr Stephen Badylak at the University of Pittsburgh.

For ten days, Mr Spievak applied the powder to the gaping hole on his finger. “The second time I put it on I already could see growth,” he said. “Each day it was up further. Finally it closed up and was a finger.

It took about four weeks before it was sealed.”

His finger now has “complete feeling, complete movement” as well as a fingernail and fingerprint.

“Except for a tiny scar, it’s just like the finger I always had,” he said.

While even Dr Badylak is not entirely sure how the powder works, it is believed that it kick-starts the body’s healing process.

Made from dried pig’s bladder, it is packed with collagen, the protein that gives skin its strength and elasticity, and was originally developed to heal damaged ligaments in horses.

Dr Badylak believes that the extra cellular matrix stimulates cells in a wound to grow rather than scar.

“There are all sorts of signals in the body,” Dr Badylak said. “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.”

Dr Badylak said that he hoped that within ten years the powder, which also comes in sheet form, would be able to “regrow the bones, and promote the growth of functional tissue around those bones”.

He said that eventually it might help to regrow an entire limb.

Dr Badylak is now preparing to continue testing the powder on a woman in Buenos Aires who has cancer of the oesophagus. The US military is due to start trials of the powder to regrow parts of the fingers of injured soldiers.

However, Dr Badylak said that the powder “isn’t ready for prime time” yet. “This is a real shot in the dark,” he said. “But there’s literally nothing else these individuals have to try. They have nothing to lose.”

In a bid to more fully understand the powers of the powder, Dr Badylak is also researching animals such as the salamander, whose limbs can grow back unaided within a matter of weeks.

Dr Badylak does not know when scientists will be able to apply this research to people and it seems that Mr Spievak is unwilling to be a human guinea-pig for much longer.

“I don't plan on cutting anything more off to find out if I can grow that back,” Mr Spievak insisted.

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