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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 (145 Responses)
  1. Vicki

    I think this post is hilarious! I had my fingertip cut off in the back of a door about 40 years ago. Nobody EVER told me that it wouldn't grow back, less I knew any different anyway. My Mom was so upset she didn't even think to take the end with us when we went to the hospital, so sewing it back on wasn't even an option. I must've had some awesome doctors 40 years ago to KNOW it would just grow back, as long as you have enough of the nail bed remaining. They did have to graft a small amount of skin on the back of the finger, but that nail is the strongest nail I have on all my fingers and toes. I wish all of them had turned out to be that strong. I just had to comment because they act like this is a "miracle"! LOL Sorry lady....this concept was known 40 years ago!! Better go see other docs next time!!

    September 11, 2010 at 12:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Michael, Citrus Heights CA

    Utter nonsense--

    This woman's fingertip DID NOT grow back. If you look closely you will see that the original fingertip extended beyond the fingernail.

    Now, the finger nail is longer than the finger tip which creates the ILLUSION that the finger is the same length as before.

    The intellectual retardation that exists in human beings is more amazing than any phony "regeneration."

    My only regret is that I haven't designed a product that you monkeys would buy to fulfill some fantasy or fairly tale belief that no 5 year-old with a normal IQ would accept as true.

    MORONS.............!

    September 11, 2010 at 12:32 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Martin

      I and several others work in a medical facility that uses this product as standard of care for distal tip amputations.. Before calling these people morons, I think you may want to visit the science yourself. Our team has watched several of these regrow all layers of tissue with evidence of bone, soft tissue, nail, etc.. I guess the military patients who are regrowing fully functional muscle tissue with this material are morons also right? MORON!

      March 22, 2012 at 09:50 | Report abuse |
  3. Alex, MD

    This whole topic is ridiculous. First, we're talking about fingertips. Unless you're a concert pianist, this is a terrible waste of healthcare time and dollars. Second, look at the photo of her finger. She still doesn't have a fingertip. All that's happened is the wound healed by secondary intention and the nail regrew from the undamaged cuticle. Cut her finger off at the knuckle and show me how it regenerates...then I'll be impressed. Otherwise, this is just the human body doing what it naturally does.

    September 11, 2010 at 13:16 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Sara

      THANK YOU. I'm an oboist myself (pinkies are super important) and even I can't fathom how I'd justify that kind of expense/stress/time/etc. over three millimeters of a pinky tip. I spent the whole original article waiting to hear why on Earth the woman even cared so much about it.

      September 12, 2010 at 05:21 | Report abuse |
  4. CLJ

    I cut off the tip of my thumb in a kitchen accident, taking off a little more than an 1/8 of an inch, but less than a 1/4 inch. It grew back completely within a few months. I was told in the ER that it wasn't uncommon for finger tips to grow back. When I get my hands wet to the point that they're puckered, you can see the exact extent as the flesh turns slightly white. But even the fingerprint is back.

    September 11, 2010 at 13:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Satara

    In 1986 I had an accident with a kitchen knife. I did cut about have of the left hand index finger tip as it is showed in the picture. The doctor told me that I will never have a normal looking finger again. Well, now, (2010) I do have a normal looking index finger. It did regrow,but nerve sensation was not there. After so many years, |I do have about 95% of the nerve activity in this area. God knows what he is doing, AMEN.!!!

    September 11, 2010 at 13:38 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Mazhar

      Hi,
      Can some body please let me know the entire process of this. My brother lost 1/3rd part of his index finger just a day before. It is tool late for the Micro Surgery now. I dont know if there is still any options to re-generate the finger to the original size. if there are any options available then, I would like to know the surgery/treatment name etc.
      Thank you,

      November 4, 2013 at 05:27 | Report abuse |
  6. WEBocract

    Long live the WORLD WIBE WEB, the ultimate democracy for free flow of information and opinions and one modern hope for humans to regrow intelligence of their own!

    September 11, 2010 at 13:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. DPD

    What's all the fuss about CNN covering this story? They recorded the facts as they were presented, and opened the subject to the scrutiny of the medical profession and general public. How many people knew that with the right treatment, severed fingertips could heal themselves at all? Even if they find out that the pig's bladder supplement was snake oil (and apparently it is), CNN would have taken a major part in exposing the fraud, and people will be better educated about their prognosis should they have a similar injury.

    September 11, 2010 at 13:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. marc

    What we all really want to know is whether this stuff can regrow hair...forget about finger tips...

    September 11, 2010 at 16:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Michael

    Dr, Gupta shouldn't let his junior staff members write his articles when he is globe-trotting in Pakistan or Haiti.
    This was not regeneration and had nothing to do with magic fairy dust medicine.
    This was just normal healing. I've had it happen myself. Please CNN take down this misleading article.

    September 11, 2010 at 17:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. drpain77

    As a orthopaedic hand and microvascular surgeon, I must say that the statements in this article are questionable. We know that patients, adult or children have the capacity to grow new SKIN over the end of the finger after an amputation. However, if one closely examines the photos of this woman's fingertip, it is clear that she does NOT have the normal length of her finger, representing a loss of bone substance. It is likely that she would have regenerated new skin over the exposed bone with simple dressing changes without the fancy medication that was applied. Who is to say that the "regenerative medication" actually was the cause for skin healing over her fingertip. If the rising cost of our medical system is of concern then articles like this that suggest curative powers without any scientific basis should not be posted for mass consumption.

    September 11, 2010 at 23:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Lisa

    I was 11 yrs old when I cut the tip of my pinky off. I am now 45. The doctor sewed it back on and it grew back, although its a little differently shaped. No special medicines or treatment were used, and that was back in the late 1970's.

    September 11, 2010 at 23:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. T-BonezLemonGirl

    No you cannot grow a finger back. But you CAN sew it back on. sheesh

    September 12, 2010 at 00:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Markoffate

    Please, stop the insanity! So-called "regenerative medicine" is utter nonsense, at least presently. While it is conceivable that a stem cell line could be used to restore structure and/or function to some body part, such technology does not yet exist in clinical application, and the outcome described in this story - and, unfortunately, this blog post - is nothing more than a typical result seen in a fingertip injury distal to the germinal nail matrix. THERE IS ABSOLUTELY NO STORY HERE, with the exception of the utter deception and misinformation perpetrated upon the public by Ms. Cohen, whether ignorantly or maliciously. If one does nothing whatever after sustaining the injury described in the article, one will usually get exactly the same result. Any plastic or hand surgeon has seen this time and time again, and that's the reason that standard treatment for such fingertip amputations is no treatment at all, besides routine wound care, and time. Dr. Gupta, you at least should endeavor to bring some reality to this fantastic misrepresentation, as you are a well-trained neurosurgeon, and are likely aware of the deceptions carried in this article.

    September 12, 2010 at 01:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. cecilia hauoli

    Yes you can grow the tips of your fingers back mine grew back with the nail I was a year old when the door slammed shut on them and cut the finger tips off on both my fingers the doctors said they would never grow back and tey did evn with the nail I made medical history in the state of Hawaii in 1967 at Tripler Army Hospital in Honolulu. Im now 44yrs old and happy to have my finger tips they dont ook normal but I have them....

    September 12, 2010 at 01:57 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Pavan Kumar Bellam

      hi, i have 1 year old niece, very recently she cut her finger tip crushed in motor she had a surgery and st-riches in her index finger please let me know is it possible get back her finger tip..?

      April 29, 2013 at 08:06 | Report abuse |
  15. bob searcy

    im not criticizing the docs methods , im just sayin at age 51 i smashed off the entire tip of my pinky till not even nail was left. i never kept it bandaged and let air heal it. it hurt like heck but it has grown back and with a perfect nail. i dont bandage any wounds, air heals..

    September 12, 2010 at 04:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Ted

    YES IT CAN! I CUT OFF THE END OF MY THUMB WITH A HATCHET CHOPPING FIRE WOOD, (INCLUDING NAIL) AND THE TISSUE AND NAIL WAS LOST. OVER A PERIOD OF 6 MONTHS THE THUMB TIP GREW BACK ALMOST PERFECTLY ( WITH A LOT OF PRAYER).
    GOD STILL WORKS TODAY AS HE ALWAYS HAS AND JESUS SAID WE WOULD DO GREATER MIRACLES.
    HEART,LUNG,KIDNEY,TRANSPLANTS, ANTIBIOTICS. YES INDEED HIS WORD IS TRUE AND SHOWN EVERY DAY IN MILLIONS OF CASES!

    September 12, 2010 at 06:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Alan

    Great! Now I can get that foreskin back that was stolen from me as an infant.

    September 12, 2010 at 08:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Jason L.

    My grandfather cut about a blades width or more (1/8th to 1/4 of an inch) off the tips of 3 of his fingers on a table saw when he was in his early 60s. What was missing grew back, even his fingerprints.

    September 12, 2010 at 10:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. kimwal

    This is a partial hoax as many physicians on this blog have attested to. Along w/ conservative bandaging, light tapping (percussion) of the injured tip promotes regrowth even faster. I have used this Rx many times w/ success.

    September 12, 2010 at 10:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. sag coopersmith

    It is not as if this woman was in her formative years with a lifetime of pinky tip loss ahead of her. It also didn't seem as if pinky tip loss was going to interrupt a career in music or something. She wasn't a hand model. It says a little about what has happened to us as patients over the last 50 years. When I was a kid people accepted many unfortunate things and carried on (they had to!) Now we are "spoiled" where we think we MUST be made whole again. People are ridiculously demanding now...like little babies. I'd hate to be a doctor nowadays–no one understands that in the big picture, pinky tip loss is small potatoes. I'm not saying I wouldn't be upset if it happened to me...but I know I would listen to the doctor if he told me that the usual treatment was to let it heal. I wonder what the patient in this article is like with all other issues–she's full of distrust now, thinking her doctors were "wrong".

    September 12, 2010 at 11:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. Rosalie Anderson

    When I read the article about Ms. Deepa Kulkarni I thought that it was too bad that her research did not find that the leading authority on digit tip regeneration is Dr. Ken Muneoka at Tulane University. Dr. Muneoka along with Dr. Susan Bryant and Dr. David Gardiner at UC Irvine have, pioneered the field and continue to research this awe-inspiring topic. It's a shame because I am almost certain that Dr. Muneoka would have told her to save her money–you're body can do it without this intervention–just as many of you can attest.

    September 12, 2010 at 12:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. andrea

    I have a DD client who cut the tip of her index finger off in a door frame about 15 years ago at the nailbed. We all marvel at how it grew back completely...

    September 12, 2010 at 13:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. Katsrule

    THIS IS NOT NEWS! The finger did not grow back and it is still shorter than original. Her original doctors were right, mother nature would have done the exact same thing. The bone was not cut off, and the base of the nail was not harmed. The finger healed as it would have healed w normal treatment. As anybody knows, if you pull out a nail, it grows back, if you cut off skin, it grows back. That is what happened here. That matrix stuff is the most expensive piece of placebo that the insurance company has paid for. Thanks for helping the insurance raise its costs. Insurance won't pay for birth control, but it will pay for placebo, great.

    Besides, who (other than models) really care about the very tip of a pinky that much? Is not like is a life threatening condition. She strikes me as the mother of all naggers and I feel bad for her family and doctors that have to put up w her.

    September 12, 2010 at 17:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. AResident

    The BBC ran an article almost identical to this about two years ago. This technology is not particularly rare or esoteric. It just happens to be unproven, with only scant evidence to support its use. Even the most favorable studies for the various extracellular matrix substitutes do not support the evidence of any miraculous properties. Once again, non-news.

    September 12, 2010 at 18:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. Kevin

    wzrd1 "That we have TWICE the infant mortality rate of ALL other industrialized nations is irrelevant."

    Where in god's name do you get your information? The infant mortality rate in the united states is a couple points lower than the best of "industrialized nations" and within tenths of a percent of most industrialized nations. This is widely made public and you can find it on both the CIA's and CDC's web sites. These gross exaggerations make you a tool at best, and a liar at worst.

    September 12, 2010 at 22:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. Dan

    My college roommate almost lost the final 1/2 inch of his left index finger in an accident, including about 1/2 of the nail bed, and the tip of the bone. I say "almost" because the tip was hanging on on by a small bit of skill tissue, and the tip did not come off clean. The doctors sewed the tip back on, and the wound probably took 2-3 months to heal. What was bizarre is that a new fingertip grew from underneath the severed tip, and the severed tip fell off on its own. The finger looked perfect – including the fingerprint!

    September 13, 2010 at 00:18 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Bravo1

      Same thing happened to me this December! Chopped off the tip of my thumb while making dinner. Went to the ER and they stitched the tip back on. Old tip fell off and WOAH, there was a brand new tip underneath!

      September 13, 2010 at 08:21 | Report abuse |
  27. Patrick in Birmingham

    I lost part of my middle finger in an accident with a mandolin slicer. That was in February of this year. I would say about 99.9% of my finger is back now, finger nail and all. I didn't get any special treatments or anything. I just kept the wound clean and applied an antibiotic ointment every day.

    September 13, 2010 at 09:07 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Kamal Gupta

      I have some queries, It would be a great help if you could share your inputs on those:

      1) My daughter is 4.5 years old, is there any possibility of natural growth of the amputated part of the thumb?
      I have studied on internet and found that there is possibility of natural growth of the amputated part especially
      in kids.

      2) Some part of distal phalanx is still left and some part of this bone still remains. Also as per the doctor, nail can grow back as the root from where nail grows is still there. But the nail base i.e. base upon which nail resides is not there.
      Can you please evaluate the possibility of regrowth using MatriStem matrix powder in this case?

      3) Are there any other surgical procedures available at present, which can do some sort of re-implantation of the lost part ?

      4) Any special medicines / exercises / suggestions available, which can help in growth of the amputated part?

      5) Going forward, if there is any possibility of any sort of treatment available to regrow the amputated part, we can take a chance.

      Regards,
      Kamal

      September 12, 2013 at 03:38 | Report abuse |
  28. Olivia

    Okay, living donors can donate part of their liver and it will regrow in both the recipient and the donor. I had a thyroidectomy in 1978 for tumors and the thyroid regrew, along with the tumors, and I had a second thyroidectomy in 2000. Some things regrow a lot easier than others, granted. The ability is there in our genome...consider lizards which will regrow tails.

    September 13, 2010 at 10:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. Marion Brizendine

    No big deal. My sister Karen grew a new fingertip on a finger that was accidently slammed in a door. This was in the late 40's and other than a little bit of sensitivity, it works just fine! The new fingertip is about 60 years old now.

    September 13, 2010 at 10:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. Josh (surgery resident

    For whoever said that livers "regenerate" after donation, it may be a matter of semantics but that is not entirely true. The regrowth of liver after partial hepatectomy is an example of hypertrophy, not regeneration as the term is used here. Hypertrophy means that the existing cells get larger and in some cases may divide to form new cells, a process called hyperplasia. Regeneration, at least as it is used here would imply a migration of immature "stem cells" that would differentiate into new tissues, such as liver.

    Bottom line, applying some growth factors and tissue matrix for scaffolding is a long way from growing organs or body parts, or from true regeneration. The field has promise, but we are a long way off. This product would best be described as a healing aid, and the public needs to be wary when the words "regenerative medicine" get thrown around.

    September 13, 2010 at 11:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. Raejean

    I lost a significant chunk of index fingertip as a young adult, enough to expect it to NOT regenerate, but it did.

    September 14, 2010 at 11:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. Lyn

    My index finger was completely severed from the top knuckle up when I was 9 and it regenerated! The docs said it wouldn't, but it did – fingernail and all. It's just a little shorter than the index finger on the other hand and has a more rounded look to it. No one ever notices unless I tell them. Our bodies are amazing!

    September 17, 2010 at 15:31 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Kamal Gupta

      I have some queries, It would be a great help if you could share your inputs on those:

      1) My daughter is 4.5 years old, is there any possibility of natural growth of the amputated part of the thumb?
      I have studied on internet and found that there is possibility of natural growth of the amputated part especially
      in kids.

      2) Some part of distal phalanx is still left and some part of this bone still remains. Also as per the doctor, nail can grow back as the root from where nail grows is still there. But the nail base i.e. base upon which nail resides is not there.
      Can you please evaluate the possibility of regrowth using MatriStem matrix powder in this case?

      3) Are there any other surgical procedures available at present, which can do some sort of re-implantation of the lost part ?

      4) Any special medicines / exercises / suggestions available, which can help in growth of the amputated part?

      5) Going forward, if there is any possibility of any sort of treatment available to regrow the amputated part, we can take a chance.

      Regards,
      Kamal

      September 12, 2013 at 03:25 | Report abuse |
  33. samantha

    last saturday i got bitten by a dog and it bit off the tip off (which include my nail,bone and skin) i went to the er they told me it will never grow and they would have to stict it up,in the of back of my mind im freaked out cause i need my thumb tip all i want to know before i go back to the doc is it going to grow back and they wont be real with me so if a real doc that knows would tell me.

    October 26, 2010 at 14:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. MR Nanda raj

    I have no lefthand thumb, in my hand 4 finger. I want to re Aditiona thumb as privious is it possibal? i am 27 year, I am karate instractor in NEPAL.

    January 20, 2011 at 23:35 | Report abuse | Reply
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  43. Erik E.

    I have an employee that got his finger tip cut off after a hood on a car slammed down on it. We found the tip but the doctor said that the bone was to crushed to try to sow back on. Now, shortly after all this happend and the rap and bandages came off you could tell that some of his finger was starting to grow back. fingernail and all.which is weird because it was cut off at the first knuckel.about 2 months later my painter was feeling a very sharp pain in the tip that got cut off. then about 2 weeks after that you could see a white bulge starting to form on the tip of the finger. so he went back to the doctor and had an x-ray. The bone on the end of the finger was starting grow back and was trying to push its way out of the tip of his finger. the finger tip that was cut off is almost as long as his other finger on the other hand. So yes I do believe that finger tips can grow back. I have seen it. But also the doctor says that this is a rare case becuase this dosn't happen with all people.

    June 12, 2012 at 08:10 | Report abuse | Reply
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  48. stuart McGowan

    Exactly 7 days ago I smashed 2 fingers on my right hand (index and big middle) in a work accident, losing both nails and likely at least one bed. Just interested how they will recover and what they will feel like.

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.