Growing Body Parts

Morley Safer Reports On The Amazing Science Of Regenerative Medicine Growing Body Parts

Dr. Blair Jobe operated on 76-year-old Erwin Schmidt last April.

Jobe removed the cancerous lining of the esophagus and inserted a sleeve of ECM. Instead of forming a scar that would block his esophagus, doctors believe the ECM instructed his cells to regrow a new lining.

Today Schmidt is cancer free. "I'm eating real good, I feel terrific, and I'm starting to put weight on. No pain, no nothing," Schmidt told Dr. Jobe.

"So essentially you gave him a new esophagus," Safer remarked.

"We're very excited by this. And I think, you know, in my heart I feel that this will change the way we do things ultimately," Jobe said. "But I think right now it's too early to claim victory."

Based on that success, Jobe and his colleagues hope to start a full clinical trial soon.

And then there is the military. The Pentagon has invested $250 million in regenerative research aimed at helping soldiers with severe battle injuries, regrowing muscle and skin for burn injuries, as well as transplant technology for lost limbs.

Dr. Steven Wolf is the chief of clinical trials at the Army's Institute for Surgical Research.

"I would imagine that the patient group that you're dealing with are a particularly positive one. They're young, eager men who suffer these horrible losses and want to get as much of their lives together as they can," Safer remarked.

"Absolutely. They want to go back. Most of these guys do. They say, 'Hey, fix me up so I can go back,'" Dr. Wolf replied.

Beginning this month, Wolf is leading a clinical trial that could one day make that possible. Army surgeons will implant ECM in the limbs of severely injured soldiers in hopes of restoring muscle lost to roadside bombs.

"What we're doing with this project is putting this ECM, in there, and then hoping that it populates and then it becomes muscle," Wolf explained.

"It also, in a place like this, goes by the name of pixie dust, correct?" Safer asked.

"Right. Well, it is somewhat magical, isn't it?" Wolf remarked. "The whole notion of, well, we're gonna put this powder in there. And it's gonna make a new thing. And there is a lot of biological support of that whole notion, so it's not magic, you know. But it certainly seems that way."

Asked what he is hoping to achieve with this research, Wolf said, "Well, we're not gonna, you know, just show up and go, 'Hey, okay, here's your leg. We'll stick it on.' What we hope is that we can replace certain tissues that can improve function. That's the first thing to do is make 'em function as well as possible."