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Regrowing Muscle

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Nick Clark's lower left leg was badly damaged in a skiing accident nearly ten years ago. "Because of complications of that severe break there was a lot of internal bleeding inside these muscle compartments and that caused swelling."

He lost large volumes of muscle. "I couldn't push off my left foot at all. I had no balance."

Nick was one of five patients who took part in an experiment to test a new stem cell technique using material from pigs.

"We can take the type of injury that normally would form nothing other than scar tissue and form a brand new skeletal muscle that's functional, that contracts," says Dr. Steve Badylak of the University of Pittsburgh.

Thin sheets of the material are implanted, coaxing the patients' stem cells to the injury site. Then, through intense physical therapy, the new material and cells are stretched together with the remaining muscle. "They get these signals. They say, 'ok I get it, I'm supposed to line up like this', and they recruit their own new blood supply, their own new nerves and they basically start forming new tissue this way. This is a major step forward."

Nick says his balance is better now. "I wanted to try it, I wanted to see if it works for me and I'm happy that it has."

He can also put weight on his leg, jump and he no longer wears an orthotic.

Patients in this study were all treated at least six months after the initial injury.

Researchers says the technique may be even more effective in patients who are treated immediately after their injuries.
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