One in 20 people will need some kind of tissue transplant in their lifetime, and more surgeons are turning to animals for help.
Whether they've lost an ear to a bomb or their hearing to old age, medicine is crossing the species boundary to unlock the secrets of disease and re-grow what was lost.
The animals in Dr. Joseph Vacanti's lab are on the cutting edge of regenerative medicine.
We actually used human cartilage cells in a human ear shape and then on the back of this mouse, the human cartilage cells grew into a human ear,” says Dr. Vacanti, chief of pediatric surgery at the Massachusetts General Hospital for Children in Boston.
Within a year, he plans to re-grow an ear on a human in a similar way.
“We can give somebody back their own face that's been either ravaged by cancer or destroyed by a terrible accident or injured by war,” he says.
Pigs are huge helpers when it comes to healing.
“Believe it or not, their genetic makeup is pretty close to humans,” says Dr. Samer Mattar, bariatric surgeon at Clarian Bariatrics in Indianapolis.
Surgeons use material made from the pig's small intestines to repair torn muscles caused by hernias. Pig powder is re-growing severed fingers at the University of Pittsburgh.
“The simplest applications involve just being able to spread a powder or a particular form of the powder on the wound site so it can affect the wound healing process,” says Dr. Steve Badylak, director of the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine in Pittsburgh.
From land to the sea, fish are helping scientists fix hearing disorders.
If zebra fish lose hearing, they naturally re-grow new auditory cells. Scientists are studying the genetic process to restore hearing in humans. Doctors hope to eventually end deafness.
Animals are advancing medicine and teaching humans better ways of healing.
According to research found in the Journal of Transplantation, transplants from pigs might actually be safer than transplants from humans in the long run.
Experts say humans and zebra fish share about 80% of the same genes.
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