Wounded soldiers can hope to live normal lives once again thanks to a whole new range of cutting-edge technology that creates parts of the body by using leftover foreskin, parts of sheep, pigs, and special kinds of metal.
The new procedures, which are based on a growing field called regenerative medicine, often involve tricking the body into growing again the organs, muscles, or other tissues damaged on the battlefield, the New York Daily News reported.
Advertisement"We're basically pushing the envelope of regenerative and restorative medicine at a much faster rate than ever," the paper quoted Col. John Scherer, director of the U.S. Army Medical Department's Clinical and Rehabilitative Medicine Research Program, as telling ABC News.
Many soldiers who thought they would remain debilitated for the rest of their lives have benefited from these advancements.
One of them is Marine Ron Strang, the 28-year-old who lost half of his quadriceps because of an explosion that detonated while he was on foot patrol in the Helmand province of Afghanistan. His skin healed, but without the muscle, he couldn't walk.
"I had to use a cane or walker," he said.
But he can now walk again, thanks to an experimental treatment in which doctors grafted pig tissue in his thigh and then used his stem cells to regrow his muscle.
"I had no clue this even existed. I was skeptical at first, but it was amazing to learn how it works," said Strang.
Researchers are hoping to mirror successes like these with other unexpected materials.
Scientists at the Laboratory for Tissue Engineering and Organ Fabrication at Massachusetts General Hospital have used a titanium frame to regrow ears from sheep cartilege.
At Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, scientists say they have grown ears from sheep cartilage cells stretched out over a scaffold, supported by pieces of metal.
"The scaffold is special because it's made of collagen, which is the component of your skin that makes it stretchy, and a metal framework that helps maintain the shape," Cathryn Sundback, co-director of the hospital's Laboratory for Tissue Engineering and Organ Fabrication, told ABC.
Sundback's team has solved all the technical problems associated with this method, and is going to seek approval from the Food and Drug Administration to put these ears on patients. She expects this to start happening within a year, according to the a foreign news agency.
And in San Antonio, doctors are trying to use the cells from leftover foreskins to produce even more skin for burned or severely wounded patients. Researchers are already conducting clinical trials, the news agency reported.
"They're having tremendous results," said Terry Irgens, the recently retired director of the Armed Forces Institute of Regenerative Medicine.