What’s new here: The matrix temporarily fills in the injury, between edges of remaining muscle. As the scaffolding slowly degrades, it releases chemical signals that attract stem cells to the site, Badylak said.
Then physical therapy puts tension on the spot, in turn signaling the stem cells that they need to form strong, stretchy muscle tissue, he said. Without the exercise, Badylak cautioned, those cells won’t get the message to boost muscle mass, and scar tissue could return.
To start proving that’s what happens, Badylak’s team first removed chunks of leg muscle from mice and administered the treatment. In-depth tests showed which cells moved in, and showed that they created working muscle.
Then it was time for human testing, with three military veterans and two civilians. Each had lost between 60 percent and 90 percent of an affected leg muscle — two from the thigh, the rest from the lower leg — anywhere from about a year to seven years earlier.
The men, in their 20s and 30s, underwent a few months of customized physical therapy to get their muscle function to its maximum capacity.
Then they received the implants, followed by more physical therapy that began within 48 hours after surgery.
Six months later, biopsies and medical scans showed some new muscle grew in all the men. Three patients were officially deemed a success because their legs were stronger by 20 percent or more after the surgery. They had dramatic improvements in tests showing they could hop or squat on the injured leg. Badylak said the two other men had some improvement in balance and quality of life, but not enough to meet the study’s definition of success.
Nick Clark, 34, of Youngwood, Pa., suffered severe muscle loss after he broke his lower leg in a skiing accident. He had a hard time balancing and taking stairs, and sometimes needed a cane. He tried to ride his bike but his left leg was too weak to pedal far.