My mom has always been a paper-reader, enjoying the Saturday news over her morning coffee. I’ve never spent much time browsing the paper, always finding it a bit depressing – either in the sense that the front section is filled with news of murders, fires, car accidents, and other tragedies, or because so much of the paper is dedicated to such superficial things at the expense of more newsworthy stories, such as cars, which get not one, but two whole sections just to themselves. Occasionally I’ll pop on to the newspaper’s website to check out the headlines (I don’t feel like I’m wasting a lot of paper just to read 5% of the stories this way). If there is a paper sitting around I may pick it up and flip through a few sections, however. See what’s new, what the headlines are today. My mom got the Saturday papers this weekend, and while having breakfast at their new house I flipped through the Ottawa Citizen’s front section.
The headline was “Tories scrap portrait gallery plan”, about the government changing their minds on where the national portrait gallery should go. The large centre image was about a guy in a public housing complex in Ottawa, where the wait list is at 5 years, who uses his unit for storage and doesn’t live there (he’s being evicted). Along the bottom there are three small headlines, each with the first 100 words of the article and direction to the rest of the full text. These were “Canada denies wrongdoing in delivering Algerian to US”, “Poppies keep popping off? Experts pin down ways to make them stay”, and then beside them, given less than 1/16th of the front page, the headline “US military researchers grow new limbs, organs”.
It was enough to pique my interest, and when I started reading more, I was fascinated. The first few paragraphs read:
American military researchers say they have unlocked the secret to regrowing limbs and recreating organs in humans who have sustained major injuries.
Using “nanoscaffolding,” the researchers have regrown a man’s fingertip and the internal organs of several test subjects.
The technology works by placing a very fine apparatus called a scaffold, which is made of polymer fibres hundreds of times finer than a human hair, in place of a missing limb or damaged organ. The scaffold acts as a guide for cells to grab onto so they can begin to rebuild missing bones and tissue.
The tissue grows through tiny holes in the scaffold, in the same way a vine snakes its way up a trellis.
After the body part has regenerated, the scaffold breaks down, is absorbed into the person’s body and disappears entirely.
A bit further down they describe some of the successful experiments. One involved a man who, while starting up the engine on his model airplane, lost the tip of one finger (basically the final joint). Using nanoscaffolding they were able to regrow that entire section, bone, skin, nail and all. Another example was of a young girl, born without a uterus, where they were able to grow one using her own tissue and nanoscaffolding. Bladders regrown in people who had bladder damage.
They say they’re working up to regenerating a “complex organ, such as a heart.” I don’t know about you, but a fingertip seems pretty darned complex to me. It’s not like you’re just growing a layer of skin, here, to graft over a burn or something (which the technology has also been used to accomplish). This is part of a limb, with several different structural components, made of different materials, with nerves and blood vessels running through it. It would be one thing if they put the nanoscaffold in place and ended up with a lump of generic flesh at the end of his finger, but they claim to have regrown the bone and nail, too.
I couldn’t believe that an announcement of this magnitude had been relegated to the bottom corner of the front page, with the rest of the story on the inner back page. This seems way more momentous than the location of the portrait gallery or a guy being evicted from public housing. This has huge implications for the future studies of things like spinal cord injuries, heart attack victims, people needing kidney or other organ transplants. It could mean the end of long wait lists for donor organs.
Well, even if the Ottawa Citizen didn’t think it was big news, I thought it was amazing. I don’t follow the news too closely, and likely won’t post many news items, but felt this deserved sharing.
The whole article can be read online at this page (it’s actually the National Post, but the story is identical).