Colonel Steven Wolf, M.D., is the Chief of Clinical Research for the U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research. He’s won numerous awards, including being honored as the San AntonioBusiness Journal’s Health Care Heroes Outstanding Physician Award and one of San Antonio Magazine’s ‘Best Doctors.’ Newsweek, 60 Minutes, CNN, and National Geographic are among the many publications that have interviewed him about his role in furthering regenerative medicine.
Dr. Wolf’s pursuit of human regeneration began with a simple idea. “We started out with the notion that we could potentially have these guys with things blown up or missing and we would be able to promote the body to completely recreate these parts,” he explains. “The biggest thing we saw with guys coming back early in the war were muscle defects with chunks of muscles missing. We were able to get the skin back with skin grafts, but they didn’t have as much muscles, so then we started thinking, would it be possible to go in and put stuff around the cells and get the muscles to grow back?”
Small successes encouraged him to research further. “So we tried it on a few guys and some of the muscles grew back. Then the questions I had in my mind are how does it happen, and how can we augment it to happen faster? We discovered that if we put a matrix into a muscle, changes occur to make more muscle.”
Next he tried regrowing appendages, which is more difficult than regrowing muscle. “With muscles you’re dealing with just a homogenous product. There’s all kinds of different stuff in fingers—bones, skins, muscles, and tendons–so you’re dealing with mostly heterogeneous muscles. Our early attempts using a matrix only grew what was closest to the matrix (bone, muscle, tendon). We tried this on the finger and got a little digit but not a full finger.”