Documenting the Coming Singularity

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Are those pig muscles or human?

Wired - 11.9.11 by Katie Drummond

A few pig cells, a single surgery and a rigorous daily workout: They’re the three ingredients that patients will need to re-grow fresh, functional slabs of their own muscle, courtesy of Pentagon-backed science that’s already being used to rebuild parts of people.

The research team behind the project, based out of the University of Pittsburgh, has made remarkably swift progress: Mere months after starting their first-ever clinical trial, they’ve already operated on four soldiers and are now training groups of surgeons from across the country in perfecting the approach. If progress continues at this pace, the trial will wrap in 24 months and the technique will become “a standard of care for orthopedists and trauma surgeons,” according to Dr. Stephen Badylak, head of the initiative.

It isn’t quite salamander territory, but it’s astonishingly close. The Pittsburgh team’s research means that, within this decade, the thousands of soldiers who’ve suffered major muscle loss during this decade’s wars can overcome devastating impairment — a life sentence of chronic pain, disability and no viable treatment short of amputation — and experience at least a 25 percent improvement in physical function. For civilians, the impact would incalculable. The kinds of trauma and health problems that now cause amputation, from car accidents and fires to cancer or diabetic peripheral vascular disease, would no longer cause irreparable damage.

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