Pixie dust could have the potential to regrow limbs and lives, writes Aoife Bruen.
Having lost the top of his finger following an accident with a moving propellor of a model airplane, toy shop owner, Lee Spievak now has ten intact digits, complete with joints, skin, nerves, nails and muscle- even the lost fingerprint has been restored exactly as it was. But, how?
After the accident, a relative of Spievak’s sent him a parcel containing a white powder known colloquially as ‘pixie dust’ which he applied to the site of amputation every day. Within days he experienced noticeable growth and, after just four weeks, this had ‘sealed’ into a brand new finger.
Now this may seem very cloak-and-dagger and, of course, another type of white powder which could convince iesomeone their finger had grown back is not slow in springing to mind. But this powder had been manufactured in a scientific laboratory and its inventor has explained the logic behind his discovery.
Many experts remain unconvinced… there are cracks in the scientific explanation
The so-called pixie dust is actually extracellular matrix (ECM), the scaffolding system in which cells exist. It is derived from a pig’s bladder, which has had all its cellular material removed from it through a long process of scraping, following which, it is then submerged in a solution of strong acid and saline, leaving a sheet of ECM that is completely free of all of its original cells. This sheet is then dried and made into powdered form to make it easier to apply to differently shaped wounds.
The idea is that if the site of the injury is treated with a supply of the material, the cells usually begin to grow and divide, they will develop normally instead of forming scar tissue as they otherwise would.
And because all the cellular material has been removed, there is no problem with rejection as it contains no foreign DNA and any new cells that grow into it will be the patient’s own.
If this radical new treatment works, its potential to heal is virtually boundless. A regulated clinical trial of pixie dust as a treatment for oesophageal cancer has been scheduled to start later this year. However, many experts remain unconvinced as the tips of fingers have often been known to grow back without any medical treatment, and there are cracks in the scientific explanation of how pixie dust works.
It’s too early to tell at this point, and although it may seem like cutting off the nose to spite the face, until pixie dust can grow it back for – I’m having none of it.