A Doctor, a Pig, and a Magical Pixie Dust That Could Regrow Fingers
Spievack had never seen a plane act this way. He got down on his knees for a closer look, and just as he said, “You’ve got to get rid of this thing,” he pointed at the engine, inserting his middle finger directly into the propeller’s path. “And that’s how I cut my finger off,” he says.
Over the years, Dr. Stephen Badylak has had problems explaining what he does for a living. He used to say, “I do biomedical engineering.” But then he’d have to explain biomedical engineering. After a while, as a default response, Badylak would simply say, “Well, I’m in medical research.” He hoped that would be enough, but it often prompted, “What are you researching?” Badylak says, “I got tired of struggling with it. So now I just tell them I make body parts.” Badylak has regrown sizable portions of esophagi, tendons, ligaments, bladders, urethras, abdominal walls, blood vessels, and hearts within animals and humans.
But that life would be a lot better for a lot of people if their bodies could be manipulated into fixing and replacing lost or damaged body parts — similar to what happens to fetuses the first few months in the womb. If a fetus loses an arm or a leg, it grows back. “Humans can grow an entire human being in nine months. That’s pretty remarkable,” says Badylak. “If you think about it that way, you can say we just want an arm, you know, or we want a leg. Just give us enough information that we can do that.”
A few days after Lee Spievack canceled his appointment with the hand surgeon, he received a package from his older brother containing a vial of powder that looked like Kraft Parmesan cheese. His brother instructed him to sprinkle it on his finger every other day until the powder was gone.
Lee Spievack is not a man who asks a lot of questions. So in the case of the vial, Spievack didn’t much care what it contained (ground-up pig bladder) or where it came from (a little farm in Albion, Indiana).
Spievack followed his brother’s directions: Every other day for the next eight days, he sat down at his living-room coffee table and sprinkled the powder on his finger. Whatever powder fell onto the table he scooped up with a piece of paper, then dropped back into the vial. He covered his finger with a Band-Aid. A few days went by, and Spievack could see something was happening. There was skin growing, and tissue on the inside, too. He insists that what happened after four weeks did not surprise him in the least, though it should have. Because his fingertip grew back.
The fingerprint took a couple more months. The tip is a little hard on the end, but he can feel things just fine. Spievack says he was particularly happy this past winter; while all of his fingers chapped in the cold weather, the new fingertip didn’t. The only side effect during treatment was that his finger began to smell like a pig’s quarters at the state fair. “It was a pretty offensive odor,” Spievack says. He doesn’t much think about his finger anymore, except when he clips his nails. He usually cuts them once a week, but the new nail has to be clipped every two days. “That fingernail grows like a son of a bitch,” he says.
This is just bizarre.
And to think that Badylak had problems convincing other people of his findings.
Only Spievack took him seriously end they teamed up.
If only people were a little more open-minded to possibilities… technologies like these would already be widely used.
And we wouldn’t be having such a hard time convincing people of the very real possibility of immortality within our lifetimes.