6

I have seen a few variants of a claim that a man lost a finger/finger tip, and was given an Extracellular Matrix (ECM) treatment, that included a powder (usually based on pig's bladder), and the finger grew back.

(Warning: Some of these links contain confronting medical images.)

  • Huffington Post, 2013

    Halpern sought out Dr. Eugenio Rodriguez of the Deerfield Beach Outpatient Surgical Center, who he had heard used a revolutionary procedure called xenograft implantation.

    Rodriguez used pig bladder tissue to create a mold of Halpern’s missing finger and attached it to the stump. He then instructed Halpern to apply a powder made from the same pig bladder tissue for two months.

    [...]

    Weeks later, the finger’s cells, bone, soft tissue, and nail grew into the mold, reports CBS Miami.

    “Long story short, it grew back – the majority of it,” Halpern told NBC6. “I’m quite happy.”

  • BBC News, 2008

    How? Well that's the truly remarkable part. It wasn't a transplant. Mr Spievak re-grew his finger tip. He used a powder - or pixie dust as he sometimes refers to it while telling his story.

    Mr Speivak's (sic) brother Alan - who was working in the field of regenerative medicine - sent him the powder.

    For ten days Mr Spievak put a little on his finger.

    "The second time I put it on I already could see growth. Each day it was up further. Finally it closed up and was a finger.

    [...] The "pixie dust" comes from the University of Pittsburgh, though in the lab Dr Stephen Badylak prefers to call it extra cellular matrix.

  • New York Daily News also about a finger being regenerated.

  • CBS News, 2014 is similar, but it has to do with regenerating muscle tissue. Fingers are more complicated.

However, The Guardian did a debunking article in 2008, discussing the Spievak case:

Simon Kay, professor of hand surgery at the University of Leeds, saw the before-and-after pictures, and says: "It looked to have been an ordinary fingertip injury with quite unremarkable healing. This is junk science."

Has ECM powder been reliably demonstrated to grow back missing fingers?

  • Please help me with tags. All SEs are different and I don't want to offend. Also, I apologize if this has an answer. I tried multiple variations of "extracellular matrix powder regrows finger" and I basically got the linked articles. – Jake Jun 19 '18 at 2:28
  • Editing note: The BBC spelled it Lee Spievak for most of the article, but Lee Speivak once. I googled both names and concluded it was most likely Spievak, and edited the question and answer to match. Then I discovered his brother is reliably reported with the spelling Alan Spievack, and I don't know how to deal! Anyone got an authoritative source? – Oddthinking Jun 19 '18 at 4:02
  • @Oddthinking Much appreciated for the edits. NGL was about 90% sure you would come through and make my question legible (I lurk a lot). – Jake Jun 19 '18 at 4:09
2

After reading the articles, there are a few things that are not in dispute:

  1. Lee Spievak's finger was injured. The article in the Guardian questions how severe the injury was.
  2. The finger was treated using an "extra cellular matrix" made from pig's bladder.
  3. The finger healed after the treatment was applied. The article in the Guardian questions whether this happened because of the treatment.

This is an article published in a medical journal by the doctor, Stephen F. Badylak. From their abstract:

We present a series of eight patients (6 males and 2 females, average age: 40.8 ± 18.8 years) with fingertip amputations treated with Particulate Extracellular Matrix or P-ECM (ACell Inc., Columbia, MD), an acellular, sterile, porcine-derived, naturally occurring, lyophilized extracellular matrix material. There were 11 fingers treated. Injuries in these patients involved fingertip pulp only, pulp and nail bed, or pulp, nail bed and distal phalanx. All patients in the series were followed until complete wound healing, which occurred within an average of 7 weeks.

Some of the details of this match the articles linked in the question.

  1. Particulate can be a fancy word for powder.
  2. Porcine-derived means it came from a pig.
  3. The article describes regenerating some bone, which would be enough to treat Spievak's finger.

The article is very short, and does not mention the names of the 8 patients. Possibly this is for legal reasons. We have no way of knowing if Spievak was part of this trial. However, this does establish the plausibility of the story.


Badylak works for ACell "a leading regenerative medicine company that develops and manufactures products designed to facilitate the body’s ability to repair and remodel tissue." They have video testimonials from some of their patients, two of which suffered finger injuries. The videos show before and after pictures, which show substantial healing. These accounts run parallel to the story reported about Spievak.


Conclusion: Fingertip regeneration using extra cellular matrices is a real thing. I don't know (or care) if it was used effectively in treating Spievak.

  • 1
    "doctor brother, Stephen F. Badylak". I think you are conflating two people. Badylak works for Acell, that was founded by the brother, the late Dr. Alan Spievack. – Oddthinking Jun 19 '18 at 3:57
  • I edited the spelling of names to be consistent, but then discovered they might now be consistently wrong. See comment on question. – Oddthinking Jun 19 '18 at 4:03
  • 1
    For what it's worth, as someone who video documents continuing medical education, I know for a fact that this is a real thing. ECM and like technologies are doing amazing things for wound healing. – fredsbend Jun 19 '18 at 5:00

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .