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3, 2, 1…Blast off to Healing


“Blast” Original acrylic and paper on canvas by team member, Jane Han and colleague, David Sohutskay (14”x11”)

Unlike humans, animals immediately bear weight on their injured limbs after orthopaedic surgery. To bring our mice bone-healing experiments closer to the human experience, we are sending mice out to zero-gravity space.


Bone grafts are important surgical procedures that help fix fractures, heal around implant devices, fuse and regenerate bones. These bone grafts sometimes help our military personnel recover from blast injuries, but because explosions cause multiple projectiles (shrapnel, etc.) to hit the body at a very high rate, bones become highly fragmented. Often times, amputation is the only treatment for these fragmented bone injuries.


Bone is living tissue that needs proper blood supply or it will die and rot inside the body. This is why certain bone fragments are surgically removed to allow the remaining healthy bone to heal. Blast injuries are even more problematic as they also cause a lot of damage to the surrounding soft tissue that would have contributed blood supply and reparative cells to the underlying bone. This mangled soft tissue must be surgically removed as well. When too much of the bone loses its blood supply, it cannot be saved and the limb is consequently amputated.


In recent years, blast injuries have become a greater concern to our military personnel because of increased encounters with explosives. In addition, the improvements in body armor and the availability of emergency responders have increased the number of people surviving with severe injuries in their extremities and faces.


Less than 20 percent of soldiers with severe limb injuries return to active duty, and less than half of these patients regain civilian employment. Facial injuries leading to defects in the jawbone can lead to severe difficulty eating, breathing and speaking as well as disfigurement. Blast injuries are relevant to our civilians at home as well. In the Boston marathon bombing of 2013, just two bombs caused 18 limbs to be amputated from 16 people.


With your financial support, we hope to find answers to improve bone healing that will prevent future amputations and improve quality of life through our experiments in space. If you would like to help us with our mission, please contact Georgia Sinclair-Strickland for more information.


Tintinalli JE, Stapczynski J, Ma O, Cline DM, Cydulka RK, Meckler GD, T. eds. Tintinalli’s Emergency Medicine: A Comprehensive Study Guide, 7e. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill; 2011.

Doukas WC, Hayda RA, Frisch HM, et al. The Military Extremity Trauma Amputation/Limb Salvage (METALS) study: outcomes of amputation versus limb salvage following major lower-extremity trauma. J Bone Joint Surg Am. 2013;95(2):138-145.

Bernstein L. Nearly a year after Boston Marathon terrorist attack, amputees are continuing to improve. The Washington Post. March 18, 2014. Accessed May 17, 2015.

Written by Jane Han

The views expressed in this content represent the perspective and opinions of the author and may or may not represent the position of Indiana University School of Medicine.

Carl Pinkham