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September 10th, 2010
05:28 PM ET

Can you really re-grow a fingertip?

On a normal day, Dr. Stephen Badylak’s office at the University of Pittsburgh receives five or six e-mails requesting help from people who’ve lost various body parts, particularly fingertips or toe tips.  Yesterday, because of our Empowered Patient article about Deepa Kulkarni, a woman whose pinky tip grew back after treatment, his office received several hundred, the doctor told us.

This, coupled with the nearly 1,000 comments on our article yesterday tells us many of you are interested in this new field called regenerative medicine and what it can and cannot do.

First, let’s talk about how the healing process usually works when someone loses a body part.  After the bleeding, there’s a period of redness and inflammation, and then scar tissue forms, Badylak explains.

When we're in our mothers’ wombs, however, things worked a lot differently. “If a fetus loses a body part, like a finger, it grows right back, especially if it’s in the first 16-20 weeks of pregnancy,” he says.

The science of regenerative medicine is based on the belief that we can summon back that ability we had as fetuses.

“We don’t lose that information- it’s still in our DNA,” Badylak says. “For some reason it gets suppressed or overrun by the inflammation and scarring process, but it’s still in our genome.”

Badylak says regenerative medicine treatments work by re-creating the “glue” that holds our cells together. That glue then signals specific types of cells to grow, such as cells that create skin, nails, or muscles.

There are many regenerative medicine treatments on the market. One that Badylak often uses is made from pig bladders.

Here are some answers to questions you asked in our column yesterday about regenerative medicine and Deepa Kulkarni, the woman whose pinky tip grew back.

“Couldn't Deepa's pinky have grown back on its own, naturally, without any medicine?”

Badylak says it would be “rare” for a body part to regenerate in an adult.

“I’ve never seen it happen, but there are reports out there of it happening, and I trust those reports, but it’s on rare occasions,” he says.

"I read that fingertip-regeneration in children up to 2 years of age is not all that strange, and happens without the application of "unusual" medical treatment. It might be something our bodies can simply "do" up to a certain age."

Badylak says this is correct. “If a 2-year-old child loses the end of his finger, he’s got a reasonable chance it will grow back,” he says.

After age 5, however, he said it would be “pretty unusual” to have a body part grow back.

Is this treatment expensive?

Kulkarni says she paid $1,665 for seven weeks of treatment with a product called MatriStem. She says she had to pay for it herself and then she and her orthopedic surgeon successfully convinced her insurance company to reimburse her.


soundoff (152 Responses)
  1. Michael

    I cut off a diagonal piece of my fingertip and nail about 5 weeks ago. It was probably a good 4-6mm but not to the bone. It's pretty much grown back since, sure it looks pink like new flesh, hasn't fully covered back over with thick skin yet and so is still a bit sensitive but I'm pretty happy. Even the nail/fingertip corner completely removed has grown back seemingly just as it was. When I sliced it off I was fearful I'd just have a flat piece of missing index finger for the rest of my life.

    May 11, 2015 at 03:18 | Report abuse | Reply
    • jose

      I was picking up wood and throwing it without gloves which was a mistake cause it ripped the print and side of my left index finger. 5 weeks later it has gotten better but it looks like a little piece is still missing, its sensitive at the top of my finger. How long did it take to fully recover and what health condition were you in, cause does overall health affect the healing process. Been doing a lot of praying as well.

      July 30, 2015 at 19:38 | Report abuse |
    • jose

      Plus I notice a lot of dry skin on the left index finger as well and been using coconut oil. The two doctors that I have seen both literally laughed at me for saying I'm making a big deal and that I would be okay. But like I said there is still a little bit missing from the top left corner of my left index finger.

      July 30, 2015 at 19:51 | Report abuse |
  2. Michael

    By the way I am 36... so you don't need to be a child. I didn't use any special medication, just a bandage and I was swimming in the ocean every day as it occurred just before I went away on holidays.

    May 11, 2015 at 03:21 | Report abuse | Reply
    • James

      Hi Michael,
      Your injury sounds similar to mine. Lopped of the corner of my index finger cutting some vegetables. No visible bone damge or anything like that. I, myself, am going on holiday in 4 weeks. How long after your injury did your holiday begin. Desperate to be able to go in the pool!
      Thanks,
      James

      June 16, 2015 at 08:16 | Report abuse |
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