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Connective tissue diseases affect tens of thousands of Canadians, and researchers are looking for new therapy options.

At the Lawson Health Research Institute, scar tissue from a person's hand, is picked apart to be used as a base for a cool research project.

Scientist Dr. David O’Gorman explains, “We can take that tissue from people who have various tissue diseases, like contracture and scarring-related diseases, and we can derive the human cells from them and grow them out and essentially repopulate three-dimensional tissues with them.”

O’Gorman says once the tissue is grown it can then be examined in the lab and, “That allows us to develop a whole bunch of models to the disease which we can study in detail.”

Growing this tissue also allows it to be used for reconstructive surgery, orthopaedics and in urology - specifically for a condition called urethra scarring - which can cause a number of urinary issues in men.

“The idea the people from neurology had was, can we take a little piece of tissue through a biopsy, take that to the lab and grow it into a sheet of tissue from that person, and it takes a few weeks, but then we have a sheet of tissue that’s taken down to the [operating room] and wrapped around the urethra and there we go.”

The materials in the lab used to grow the artificial tissue derives from actual human scar tissue from the operating room at St. Joseph’s Health Care.

O’Gorman says the hope is that by being able to grow this tissue and study it, it will eventually lead to better outcomes for these patients

“By using these tissues, literally dozens of them and screening various drugs, you can look at some potential new treatments.”