Growing Body Parts

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

Which is what Isais Hernandez says ECM did for him: he was so severely wounded by a mortar round that amputation of his leg seemed likely.

Wolf operated on Hernandez last year as a first test of ECM in this type of injury. He placed ECM in Hernandez' thigh, which grew entirely new muscle in a wound that had once exposed the bone.

His physical therapist Johnny Owens says the muscle growth is clear.

Asked if he feels the difference, Hernandez told Safer, "Yeah, I mean, it doesn't feel, it doesn't get as tired as quickly or shaky before. After doing some other workouts, I'd have to break. And now I don't have to break anymore."

"Must be giving you a lot of pleasure to see that kind of progress?" Safer asked Owens.

"It does, yeah," he replied. "And this is one, early on, I think there's a lot of potential to see bigger and better things."

"When you saw that this, to some extent, worked, were you surprised?" Safer asked Dr. Steven Wolf.

"Part of my job is to be a scientist and to be somewhat objective, right?" Wolf replied.

"You're also a human being," Safer pointed out.

"Exactly. Exactly," Wolf agreed, laughing. "Of course we were excited. You know, and that 'Did it fail miserably?' No. In fact, it seemed to work. Eureka!"

"If this works it could really change trauma medicine, yes?" Safer asked.

"In terms of muscle loss. Now all right, what happens if we put that by a nerve? What happens if we put that by bone? What happens if we put that by your heart? What happens by so? You see, it opens a lot of doors if it actually works," Wolf said.

The military is also using regenerative techniques in hand replacements for amputees. Doctors at the University of Pittsburgh have successfully transplanted a hand taken from a cadaver onto the arm of Marine Josh Maloney who lost his right hand working with dynamite.

Using cell therapy and a bone marrow transplant from the donor, doctors were able to get Josh's body to accept the new hand without many of the anti-rejection drugs that are almost always toxic.

Maloney says the surgery has given him his life back. To Dr. Wolf, it's the least medicine can do.

"These guys, they were protecting us. They took the hit for us, and they deserve our respect for that reason," Wolf said. "And from my perspective, they deserve our very best effort to do the best we know how to do, and then further, to do the best that we don't even know yet how to do."

Produced by Katy Textor