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War Wounds

Miracles, in other words, may be possible, if we can unleash our scientists and doctors to move ahead with new techniques to heal the sick and damaged.
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Back in April of this year, I did my first post here, calling for more work on stem cells. A buddy of mine, Allen Rucker, author of one of the best books ever written on disabilities, posted a link on his blog. One commentator wrote in to oppose this strand of medical research; they argued that it might lead to more abortions, which would then be used to harvest stem cells.

This is clearly not what we are advocating, and Rucker dealt with that argument handily in his reply. I am sure, however, that these sentiments are shared by many other Americans, for ideological and religious reasons. This position is part of the policy debate on stem cells, and has some impact.

Now, however, there is an interesting new player in the game. Army doctors, working with the Georgia Tech Center for Advanced Bioengineering for Soldier Survivability, are developing ways to use stem cells to regenerate body parts destroyed by enemy munitions.

As described in the Army Times, before this, "As military doctors in Iraq and Afghanistan have seen more horrific injuries involving skin, nerve, vascular and bone losses from explosions, they tried to think of what more could be done for the victims besides bandaging things up and hoping for the best."

The answer they have been reaching out to, with enormous potential for success, is stem cells. So far, researchers have regrown nose cartilage, and are working on growing back far more complex ear cartilage. Even more amazing, they have regenerated a femur bone in only twelve weeks.

All of this, of course, is in rats, but Barbara Boyen, the Center's director, feels that "the institute is only a couple of years away from getting approval to try the new methods on humans," with every hope for victory. Miracles, in other words, may be possible, if we can unleash our scientists and doctors to move ahead with new techniques to heal the sick and damaged. Including men and women who received their injuries in service to this country.

And make no mistake, it is miracles we are discussing here. As the Army Times explains, "For combat troops who have lost a limb, suffered severe nerve damage or have serious scarring, this could mean the difference between living the next 60 or 70 years with a disability or being able to function as they did before their injuries."

The implications of this are both poignant and profound: roughly 30 percent of combat injuries involve the face. These are wounds you cannot hide, that are on perpetual display, not only to loving family members, but to the world, to everyone you meet. Boyan summed it up best when she remarked, "You can't hide a face injury."

Yet, despite this trauma, "Rats with injuries to the zyphoid cartilage in the chest--similar to that of the nose--are healing within a month." Miracles, indeed.

Isn't it time we gave our wounded soldiers, Marines, sailors and airmen a break, and move forward with every resource we have to heal them?