The science developed by McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine deputy director Stephen Badylak, DVM, PhD, MD, professor in the University of Pittsburgh department of surgery and the McGowan Institute’s director of its Center for Pre-Clinical Tissue Engineering, was the focus of a recent health story by CNN Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohn. The article explained that Deepa Kulkarni (from California) accidently amputated her fingertip in a door jamb. Doctors in the emergency room told her there was no way to reconnect the tip of her finger. Discouraged, Ms. Kulkarni returned home and did her own internet research.
What she found were stories featured on "60 Minutes" and "Oprah" about a relatively new regenerative medicine procedure called tissue engineering, where a biological scaffold was used to facilitate the regrowth of amputated finger tips for other patients. These stories led her to the website of Dr. Badylak who helped pioneer the biological scaffold (extracellular matrix or ECM) that has been used by physicians in fingertip regeneration procedures. Her email message to Dr. Badylak was just the beginning of her 7-week regenerative medicine therapy.
As noted above, the foundation of the treatment is biological scaffold materials composed of ECM which has been used clinically in regenerative medicine for many therapeutic procedures. The major focus of Dr. Badylak’s laboratory is the development of regenerative medicine strategies for tissue and organ replacement. The use of mammalian ECM or its derivatives as an inductive template for constructive remodeling of tissue is a common theme of most of his research activities. The goal of all projects is clinical translation and improved patient care.
Today, Ms. Kulkarni’s pinky finger is restored, just a bit shorter than the other one. Dr. Badylak says tissue engineering works by recruiting the patient’s cells to the biological scaffold. When asked if Ms. Kulkarni’s finger could have grown back, naturally, without any help, Dr. Badylak responded it would be “rare” for a body part to regenerate in an adult.
“I’ve never seen it happen, but there are reports out there of it happening, and I trust those reports, but it’s on rare occasions,” he says.