The Defense Department’s Office of Technology Transition is funding a new project that has the potential to help thousands of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans who have been injured and lost large amounts of muscle mass from their limbs. The trial will aid 80 patients, both veterans and civilians, in growing new limb muscle through a material called extracellular matrix.
Extracellular matrix, a material that exists in both people and animals, is the natural scaffolding that forms the foundation for tissues and organs. It is made by cells, and mainly composed of collagen and other proteins; only very recently did scientists realize its true purpose: extracellular matrix tells the body to grow and restore tissues and organs.
Scientists are using matrix from pigs, sheep and other animals to stimulate growth of replacement tissue in humans. In the past, extracellular matrix from animals has been effectively used as a reinforcing layer to aid in the restoration of damaged rotator cuffs and hernias.
This method has successfully regrown muscle in one patient so far, Marine Sgt. Ron Strang who lost part of his leg muscle in an explosion in Afghanistan. Extracellular matrix extracted from pig urinary bladder was used to regrow muscle in Sgt. Strang’s leg. Post-surgery, Strang’s body instantly responded to the matrix, signaling stem cells to come to the area and become muscle cells.
Patients must still have some leftover muscle and nerves so that the muscle can work. Scar tissue is removed before inserting the matrix, so that the matrix can interact with healthy tissues and be near the bloodstream and source of cells. The matrix needs to be inserted into the muscle so that the matrix is activated when the muscle begins moving again — this happens immediately after surgery, when the patient begins an accelerated regimen of physical therapy. Moving the muscle tells the body that the matrix should become muscle and not a different kind of tissue.
Some of the primary improvements in Sgt. Strang’s leg might have been from the mechanical connection between the extant muscle and matrix; but as the matrix has deteriorated in his leg, he has showed continued improvement.
This is a good example of how people, agriculture and technology can, and must, live in harmony and prosper together.
Conceived, Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan
January 3, 2013
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