You may have seen a recent story on CNN about a patient whose finger grew back after the tip of the finger was amputated. This story is all over the internet and people are wondering (understandably) what all the fuss is about.
I’ll let you read the story and make up your own mind. As a hand surgeon, I have some strong feelings about this. Of course, I want nothing more than to sprinkle some regenerative powder on a patient’s finger and have a newly re-grown finger seven weeks later. This would eliminate a lot of surgery and uncomfortable bandage changes for many patients. However, it’s important that we look below the surface at this story.
What we can learn from this story
- new treatments inspire hope
- re-growing body parts is sensational and gets a lot of attention
- being persistent as a patient can get you exactly what you want
Questions evidently never asked (that we know of) by the authors of the story
- Where is the good evidence that this works? Have comparisons been done between the “letting it heal” method and using tissue regeneration powder?
- How are these injuries treated now, without this new wonder drug?
- Who treats these now? Why was a hand surgeon never interviewed?
- Who benefits from this news story about a treatment that is not proven to work?
- Where are the x-rays?
- Why is her finger shorter if it “grew back”?
- Why won’t it work for re-growing entire fingers?
- Do people care about scientific rigor? This concept is never mentioned.
- How is any treatment proven to work?
I don’t have the answers to the questions listed above. However, I know a balanced, thoughtful story when I see one published. Many of these questions should have been addressed.
Hand specialists have successfully treated hundreds of fingers like this (see Dr. Nelson’s page). “Sensational” results can and are achieved everyday by simply letting the body heal this on its own. This can be done for less than $50.
What happens when insurance companies find out the same results can be achieved for $50 instead of $1600? Also remember that her orthopaedic surgeon did a debridement of her finger. Was this in the office or in surgery? What was the cost of this part of her treatment?
I applaud this woman for getting what she wanted from her doctors and for educating herself and taking responsibility for getting the treatment she felt was right.
My point is not to dismiss regenerative medicine as snake oil. Rather, in our role as scientists, we have to look at this from all angles. This sometimes involves looking past hype and sensationalism.