Army Technology Includes Opportunities to Regenerate Lost Limbs

Imagine medicine made of combined properties from the intestinal lining and the urinary bladder, which can help to regenerate a missing digit or limb – this was only one out of hundreds of technological research projects displayed at the 26th Army Science convention held recently in Orlando, Florida.

Scientists from around the world gathered at the four-day conference, displaying hundreds of research projects developed with one purpose: to make soldiers both safer and increasingly effective in their abilities. The Army’s research laboratories, universities and partner industries all had some hand in a variety of the technological innovations displayed.

As for the regenerative medicine, known as Extracellular Matrix, U.S. Army Biological Scientist Sgt. Glen Rossman explained,  “The cream-colored crystallized powder, called ‘magic dust,’ boosts the body’s natural tendency to repair itself…the body thinks it’s back in the womb [when the matrix has been applied to a missing digit or limb].”

One nonmilitant study participant gained a first-hand experience of Extracellular Matrix’s abilities. After four weeks of researchers continuously applying the medicine to a missing tip of the participant’s finger, which had been lost in a model plane’s propeller, replenishing new skin and tissue grew over the damaged area. 

Tissue and skin are not the only regenerative interests of the Armed Forces. In fact, the Armed Forces Institute of Regenerative Medicine is also studying nerve and vein transplantation, which includes the treatment of burns without scarring, along with the regeneration of tissue, skin and bone.

Both animals and humans have aided in regenerative studies, enabling the institute to develop therapies for the generous amount of soldiers who become victim of explosives.

Armed Forces Institute Scientists have also developed an engineered skin substitute from patients’ cells. A sample of skin approximately the size of a postage stamp actually has the ability to grow significantly. Placing the substitute over a wound or burn provides reduced chances for infection and has the ability to eventually grow and cover large areas of the injured body.

Army scientists have even developed a method for regrowth in areas missing bone. Hydroxyapatite, a biodegradable, web-like tube of calcium-phosphate ceramic, is placed in the location of the missing bone to create a scaffold-effect. This scaffold provides a base for the body, allowing it to grow natural tissue, bone and veins again. Although up until this point the method has resulted in a maximum 3-centimeter growth of bone in rats, researchers are hoping to increase this number to 5 centimeters over the course of the next two years. 

Aside from regenerative displays, visitors could find complementing technology at the convention, as well. For example, the Battlefield Extraction Assist Robot, or BEAR, provides one option for removing wounded soldiers from combat zones, so that they can be treated for things such as missing limbs. Built by Vecna Technologies in association with the Army, the human-shaped prototype comes equipped with eyes, ears, arms, lights, two cameras and infrared abilities. With a maximum speed of 10 mph, BEAR can lift 250 pounds while balancing on its toes and can also help to increase the safety of soldiers’ human rescuers.

Elaborating on BEAR’s value, Vecna robotic engineer Andrew Allen explained, “BEAR can easily be replaced; it costs money and not lives.”