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approach in wound healing happened quite
by accident. It all started with what Badylak’s associates called a “harebrained” idea
and a mutt named Rocky.
In ;;;; Badylak was a new hire at Purdue
University, working with a well-established
biomedical engineer named Leslie Geddes.
Badylak, a young Indiana native, brought an
unusual background to his post. After college he had attended veterinary school at
Purdue and practiced animal medicine until
he realized that most pet owners could not
a;ord the tests necessary to diagnose the
conditions that fascinated him. Frustrated
and worried that he would grow bored,
he went back to Purdue to earn a Ph.D. in
animal pathology. After weighing teaching
o;ers, he decided to go to medical school.
Badylak used his old connections to help
pay his way, setting up a lab in his home to
diagnose ferret lymphoma and dog breast
cancer for former veterinary classmates
who mailed him samples.
At Purdue, Badylak became fascinated by
an experimental technique called cardio-myoplasty, in which a ;ap of a patient’s back
muscle is removed and wrapped around the
patient’s ailing heart. A pacemaker shocks
the muscle into contractions and helps
the heart squeeze blood through the body.
When Badylak decided to investigate the
technique on his own, it was only natural
that he would gravitate back toward animal
patients, this time as test subjects.
He quickly discovered a downside to car-diomyoplasty. It used synthetic tubing to
replace the aortic artery, and this often triggered aggressive inflammation and blood
clots. Badylak became convinced that if he
could ;nd a blood vessel substitute within a
patient’s own body, he could stop the in;am-mation. So one afternoon he sedated an a;a-ble dog named Rocky, removed part of the
animal’s aorta, and replaced it with a piece
of its small intestine, the part of the body
that most resembled the tubular structure
of Rocky’s blood vessels. Badylak did not
expect Rocky to survive the night, but he
;gured that if the animal had not bled out
by morning, it would prove the intestine
was sturdy enough to pass blood and hence
worthy of further study.
;is was, Badylak would later admit, the
kind of outside-the-box experiment that
would probably never get past a university
Badylak could not
animal-care committee today. His third-year cardiovascular surgery resident called
the operation “cruel” and “ridiculous” and
refused to participate. Even Badylak’s habit
of referring to the dog by name was contentious, since researchers typically conform
to the colder convention of identifying
laboratory animals by numbers. But when
Badylak arrived for work the morning after
Rocky’s surgery, he found the mutt wagging
his tail and ready for breakfast.
Badylak kept expecting the dog to die,
yet every day he would ;nd Rocky healthier and more energetic than the last. Days
turned to weeks and Rocky continued to
thrive. “I didn’t want to go in surgically and
look because I wanted to see how long the
intestine would hold,” he says.
Hoping to make sense of his unexpected
result, Badylak repeated the procedure on
;; other dogs. ;ey, too, thrived. Six months
later he ;nally operated on one of the dogs
to understand why. ;at, he recalls, is when
“things got really weird.” Badylak could
not ;nd the transplanted intestine.