A few weeks ago, a revelation by Lee Spievack, a model aircraft enthusiast, took the medical world by storm. Back in 2005, Mr. Spievack cut off the top of his finger almost to the first joint, he claims. But that’s not the most outrageous of his claims. You see, Mr.Spievack’s brother is part of the team undertaking regenerative medicine research in the University of Pittsburgh. And, said brother advised Lee Spievack to use what they call “pixie dust” on his severed limb which, Mr. Spievack claims, re-grew his fingertip—nail, flesh, and bone—in just four weeks. What’s a pixie dust anyway? The origin is not as magical as its name, unfortunately. What they call as “pixie dust” is actually an extracellular matrix made of pig’s bladder.
Image: Daily Mail UK
The extracellular matrix is necessary as it stimulates the limb to regrow. So if you look at it at face value, the pixie dust really COULD re-grow the severed finger with no problem. Unfortunately, growing the tip of a finger is more complex than, say, re-growing part of a liver. Re-growing the severed tip of a finger means that there should be a guide to “instruct” the growing tissue to form bones, flesh, and fingernail—the components of the finger which have been cut off—in all the right places. There’s no known substance which can accomplish this up ‘til now.
While it DOES sound promising, there’s still no solid scientific evidence behind what happened though. As such, some scientists are skeptical of it. A hand surgeon called Simon Kay from the University of Leeds even said that Mr. Spievack’s injury might have been just a "very common-or-garden, mundane fingertip injury,” one that only cut off the flesh at the top and not the bone or the fingernail. Scientists are also finding the phenomenon very curious because when limbs are severed, even if they are sewn back, they won’t re-grow nerves. As an effect, one cannot feel anything with that limb anymore. Mr. Spievack, however, claims to have gotten back the feelings to his newly-regrown fingertip.
If this indeed isn’t as phenomenal as it seems, if this is just a common flesh injury, then it’s back to the drawing board for those researching regenerative medicine. Nevertheless, before anyone dismisses this for a myth, know that the US Military (which would benefit a lot if this turns out to be true) is now cooperating with the University of Pittsburgh team to research Mr. Spievack’s case further.
Sources: Daily Mail UK and BBC News