Brave US Marine, Corporal Isaias Hernandez, has undergone revolutionary medical therapy that has saved his right leg from amputation.
While serving in Afghanistan, Corporal Hernandez (19 at the time), was caught in a horrifying enemy mortar explosion. While carrying a small TV to a military transport in preparation for a long journey, Hernandez was blasted with shrapnel from the exploding mortar. Although the TV shielded his upper body, his arms and legs were hit. He lost 70% of his upper right thigh muscles in the blast.
Doctors advised Hernandez that, usually, this type of severe injury would require amputation of the leg. However, the Department of Defense had just made the decision to look again at how care was provided for the large number of injured personnel coming back from Afghanistan. The US Government had also dedicated $50m into regenerative medicine research.
So, Hernandez was offered a pioneering treatment that impregnated his remaining leg muscles with an experimental growth-promoting substance extracted from the bladders of pigs.
First of all, Hernandez had to undergo a strenuous fitness regime to rebuild his existing leg muscles. Only then were the surgeons able to cut open his thigh and insert a sliver of extracellular matrix (ECM). After recovering from the surgery, Hernandez was back in the gym. This time, as he began to work out again, the doctors found that his leg regained strength and bulk.
Over the last year, Hernandez’s right leg has become as strong as his left leg and he has recently taken up mountain biking.
Due to this success, the US Government has put a further $4m into similar trials on 80 more patients.
Professor Stephen Badylak, director of tissue engineering at the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, oversaw the treatment.
“It was a remarkable recovery” he said “Almost everyone thought the ECM was just a structural support, but it’s just the opposite. It’s primarily a collection of powerful signaling proteins which are held within the structural molecules.”
Regenerating skeletal muscle is something of immense interest to scientists around the world. Perhaps now, we really are on the path to offering therapies for conditions such as heart attacks, Type 1 Diabetes and even neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s disease.