Magic Dust Might Hold Key to Regenerative Growth

A few weeks ago, at the Army Science Conference, researchers unveiled many exciting science and technology projects. Among them were several projects aimed at helping heal wounded soldiers, including one that was able to regenerate part of a finger.

Using a special powder, scientists were able to regrow the tip of a man’s finger. The powder is nicknamed “magic dust” and helps trick the body into thinking it is back inside the womb, in turn spurring growth. The dust is actually a combination of substances from the intestinal lining and bladder, which are called Extracellular Matrix.

The Extracellular Matrix is found in body tissue, but works outside of the cells. In humans, Extracellular Matrix works in concert with stem cells to help grow many parts of a baby, including the heart and toes.

Normally, when the body experiences a wound, the dead cells trigger an immune response, which uses inflammation and scarring to heal the wound. By using the Extracellular Matrix on the wound, the immune system is not triggered. Instead, it causes the cells around the wound to begin rebuilding, much like they would inside the womb.

Extracellular Matrix has been used for some time now to promote healing in animals and also some people. Veterinarians use this substance to help treat torn ligaments in horses and it is also used to help treat ulcers in people. The Army began experimenting with it in 2007, using a powdered extract taken from a pig.

Though much more testing is required, the regenerative properties of the Extracellular Matrix look very promising. The substance was applied to the tip of the mans finger and in around four weeks, the body regrew skin and tissue over the wound. The man, a civilian, lost the tip of his finger up to the bottom of his fingernail as a result of a model plane accident.

The substance is also being used on soldiers who were wounded in Iraq. Doctors do not anticipate it being able to regrow bone or even an entire finger, but with time, it is hoped to be able to use this technology on even a larger scale, to help repair limbs.

It is also hypothesized by some, that since the substance occurs in humans, but is not active, it might be possible to trigger it. This could potentially cause regeneration, similar to that found in a deer that regrows his antlers or a salamander that regrows its tail, to occur.

Another group of researchers also presented a way of making a skin like substance, using the patients own cells. This could then be placed onto an open wound, like a burn, with a better chance of acceptance from the patient.

The research projects were unveiled at the 26th Army Science Conference, which was held in Orlando this month. More than a hundred different research projects were presented, with scientists and researchers from around the world attending to explore the many technologies. The projects presented at this event were intended to improve or make more efficient the lives of soldiers.

The Army Science Conference has been held every two years since 1957. The event is held in part to bring attention to the Army’s Science and Technology Division, but it is also showcases many very impressive research projects. Over the last fifty years, 31 of the scientists sponsored by the Army have at some point won Nobel Peace Prizes.

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