Bringing An Injured Sea Turtle Back To Life With Human Tissue Regeneration Technology

The patient was saved by cutting-edge technology used on burn victims and wounded soldiers. But the patient in question isn’t a person, it’s a sea turtle, the first animal saved by tissue regeneration procedures. Warning: graphic sea turtle surgery photos.

sea turtle surgery


The patient was saved by negative wound pressure therapy and the Strattice Reconstructive Tissue Matrix, an advanced piece of technology that supports tissue regeneration. We’re not talking about a soldier injured on the battlefield or a human burn victim (though the technologies are used for those kinds of patients)–the injured party in this case is Andre, an endangered male sea turtle who was hit a number of times with a boat propeller before washing up last year on the shore of Juno Beach, Florida with damage to his skin and shell, a collapsed lung, and pneumonia.

But Andre’s didn’t die that day. He just happened to wash ashore near the Loggerhead Marinelife Center, an ocean conservation center dedicated to saving endangered sea turtles. The doctors at Loggerhead were able to remove three pounds of sand and a live crab from Andre’s wounds before successfully treating his many health issues. How did they do it?

First, the doctors used VAC therapy, a kind of negative wound pressure therapy that draws wound edges together, removes infectious materials, and speeds up the recovery process. After extracting multiple pounds of debris from Andre, doctors moved on to the next step: the Strattice Reconstructive Tissue Matrix, which had never been used on an animal before.


The reconstructive skin matrix, which is often used for human tissue repair, supported Andre’s tissue regeneration by acting as a scaffold until his body could begin healing the wounds with his own living tissue.

Finally, the doctors worked on repairing the injuries to Andre’s shell with six custom fixture orthodontic appliances (palate expanders, which are also used on human teeth). Two of the expanders pushed parts of his shell together, and four of them pulled parts of the shell apart to encourage growth. Andre has recovered so well from all of his procedures that Loggerhead is planning to release him back into the ocean on August 3.

The story has implications far beyond this one sea turtle. Consider: modern medicine has advanced so much that we can now use ultra-complicated procedures to save the last members of certain endangered species–which are for the most part endangered because of our actions–with technology previously reserved for humans. It’s the least we can do.

[Images: Loggerhead Marinelife Center]

Reach Ariel Schwartz via Twitter or email.


About the author

Ariel Schwartz is a Senior Editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine and more.