Stem cell powder, which Lee Spievak calls “pixie dust” has almost magically regrown Spievak’s previously missing finger, according to a report on the BBC. That story has gone viral on social media, but is it real? The tale goes something like this: a man’s finger was “magically” regrown by stem cell powder. There’s no actual magic involved, of course, only science, but the results are so miraculous that Spievak, who had lost his finger in a hobby shop accident, says he feels he has witnessed something he never thought possible; his entire finger tip grew back perfectly intact, including a complete fingerprint, after doctors sprinkled stem cell powder derived from a pig’s bladder onto the wound.
It sounds like something out of a fairy tale, but real medicine might be at work in this case. Spievak’s brother mailed him the powder from a lab headed by Dr. Stephen Badylak. Badylak calls the “pixie dust” powder an “extra cellular matrix” and says that the stem cells can be made into sheets as well as powder, which can potentially be used to regrow all types of tissue, including organs.
The stem cell powder and sheets will soon be undergoing several types of clinical trials. In the first trial, a woman suffering from esophageal cancer will have the stem cells placed in her esophagus after surgery to see if the tissues there will regenerate. In the second trial, member of the U.S. military will participate. In this study, doctors will attempt to regrow missing fingers. The end goal is to see whether this technology could one day be perfected and used to regrow entire limbs, organs and even bones.
The stem cell “pixie dust” that regrew Spievak’s missing finger might also soon be used to help regenerate the skin of patients who have suffered very severe burns. Doctors anticipate that this technique could be perfected within about ten years’ time.
The story of stem cell powder regrowing a man’s finger is exciting, and it has gone viral on social media, but still it is important to ask the question: is it real? Since the original report on the BBC, several scientists have come forward to try to discredit the story, saying that Spievak never lost his entire finger; only the very tip; and he didn’t lose any of the bone. Given the amount of finger Spievak actually lost, they say, it would have regrown on its own anyway.
Some experts also point out that no study has been done thus far to determine whether the results Spievak achieved were indeed due to his using stem cell powder or were just the result of what would have happened naturally anyway. To complicate matters, after the original story broke, it was later revealed that Spievak is related to Dr. Badylak, which could represent a definite conflict of interest. Still, experts say, the fact that Spievak claims to have feeling back in his fingertip is quite remarkable if true because normally, when a fingertip grows back after a severe injury, all feeling is lost.
The original story of stem cell powder regrowing a man’s finger came out in 2005, but has come back around on social media and has gone viral. Is it real? The medical community and public can only wait until further research is carried out to determine whether stem cell powder has any proven, practical medical applications. However, a report by ABC says that upon follow-up done in 2008, it was discovered that the stem cell powder was, at that time, being developed to treat various types of injuries.
By: Rebecca Savastio