The Healing Power of Pigs: Part Three

By: Marcie Kobriger Email
By: Marcie Kobriger Email

Dr. Steven Badylack initially unlocked the healing power of the pig two decades ago right in Indiana. The experiment involved using pig intestine to help fix a portion of the aorta in a dog.

The next morning, Dr. Badylack says the dog was, “wagging his tail wanting breakfast. His name was Rocky. Rocky lived for eight years and died of natural causes.”

An MRI of Rocky revealed a surprising result. Dr Badylack says the pig intestine graph wasn’t just turning into scar tissue, it was turning into an actual blood vessel. The key to this growth is the so called “matrix tissue” that is found inside the pig’s organs.

The tissue, which looks like a piece of wax paper after being processed, has the ability to heal wounds. Researchers describe the use of matrix tissue as engineering a shape for mother nature’s scaffolding.

Dr. Badylack gets the matrix tissue from pigs in Albion, Indiana. The swine at Whiteshire Hamroc farms are raised in climate controlled barns. Outside access is limited and every precaution is taken to make sure the pigs are as healthy as possible.

The staff at Whiteshire Hamroc are cautiously optimistic about the pig possibilities, and they have good reason. While the results may be questioned by some, the Department of Defense decided to fund some research to explore the potential of pig matrix tissue.

Dr. Badylack and his team are one of two groups funded by a D.O.D. grant.

The government wanted to know if it was possible to re-grow limbs. Dr. Badylack describes it as a Star Wars project, a science fiction meets reality scenario. However, Badylack says it is possible. He says his team is at the cusp of understanding how.

Dr. Badylack reports his team has figured out how to regenerate soft tissue. Right now they are re-growing toes on lab rats.

Dr. Badylack is also advising surgeons at the Army Institute of Surgical Research on a project to help soldiers returning from war who have lost digits.

The goal for the project is to grow back an inch of tissue, but give Dr. Badylack an inch and he’ll go the extra mile. He says, “we’re going to figure this out. If we do it’s not just for re-growing fingers and it’s not going to be just us. This is going to be a collection of all the people around the world. We’re going to put these pieces together and we’re going to solve this problem.”

Researchers from twelve universities across the country have teamed up with Dr. Badylack to try and find the solution. White he’s confident in his approach, there are other scientists out there trying to do the same thing with different methods. While Dr. Badylack isn’t sure when all the pieces will fit together, he’s hopeful that he will see his research translate to the bedside before the end of his life.

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