Regeneration of Human Muscle

Damon Winter/The New York Times

What do a pig and a thigh muscle have in common? 

While you might be eagerly awaiting a punchline, this isn’t a joke. I’m sure you’re thinking that I’m completely off my rocker by asking that question, but those two things have more in common than you might realize. Actually, they have one major thing in common: extracellular matrix. Extracellular matrix is an underlying scaffolding found in all tissues and organs (in humans and animals) that signals the body to repair/regrow damaged tissues.

Researchers have found that when taking a pig’s extracellular matrix and implanting it into a human’s body, muscle regrowth is spurred.

Armed with that knowledge, the new body builders are using this material from pigs and other animals to engineer the growth of replacement tissue in humans.

The technique used on Sergeant Strang, though still in development, holds particular promise for some of the thousands of veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars who have been maimed by explosives and have lost so much muscle from an arm or a leg that amputation is sometimes the best alternative.

Last fall, Dr. Rubin cut out the scar tissue from Sergeant Strang’s leg and stitched a sheet resembling a thick piece of parchment paper — extracellular matrix from a pig urinary bladder, which had shown excellent results in lab studies — into the remaining healthy thigh muscle.

His body immediately started breaking down the matrix, which consists largely of collagen and other proteins. But the doctors expected, and wanted, that to happen — by degrading into smaller compounds, the matrix started the signaling process, recruiting stem cells to come to the site where they could become muscle cells.

How cool is that! I love that, when given the chance (and the proper tools), the body has such an amazing ability to heal itself! This is a game changer for a LOT of folks. While the initial test subjects will be war veterans, there is a huge potential to branch out from there and help others with this procedure. Think of those injured in a car wreck, burned in a fire, or even shark-attack victims. The possibilities are endless!

Kudos to Dr. Rubin and his team. You all are certainly doing work that matters! Keep it up!

QUESTIONWhat are your thoughts on this latest discovery?