As an orthopedic surgeon, I often pondered one particular breakdown of that [healing] energy, my specialty’s major unsolved problem — nonunion of fractures. Normally a broken bone will begin to grow together in a few weeks if the ends are held close together to each other without movement. Occasionally, however, a bone will refuse to knit despite a year or more of casts and surgery. This is a disaster for the patient and a bitter defeat for the doctor, who must amputate the arm or leg and fit a prosthetic substitute.
Throughout this century, most biologists have been sure only chemical processes were involved in growth and healing. As a result, most work on nonunions has concentrated on calcium metabolism and hormone relationships. Surgeons have also “freshened,” or scraped, the fracture surface and devised ever more complicated plates and screws to hold the bone ends rigidly in place. These approaches seemed superficial to me. I doubted that we would ever understand the failure to heal unless we truly understood healing itself.
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