New Tissue Engineering Provides Self Healing and Hope

November 7, 2011

By Barbara Goldman

© Scott Lewis

Cpl. Isaias Hernandez on the mend with new tissue engineering regeneration process.

Philadelphia-based Scott Lewis has a background as a newspaper photographer so he likes to get the details. He has always relished the diversity of assignments as an ideal playground for experimenting in ways to tell stories in a wide range of styles and approaches. Lewis is able to jump into any scenario and tell the story in the best way it needs to be told. He works fluidly as a documentary photographer as well as in more controlled, produced situations. Scott is based in Philadelphia and is focusing on new editorial and commercial outlets for visual storytelling.

Although he is definitely more of a people photographer, this past summer Lewis got to experiment with trying to find a creative way to light just plain white powder and materials made with powder  for very challenging subject matter for Discover magazine.

Assistant Photo Editor Katie Hausenbauer at Discover found Lewis on ASMP’s Find A Photographer Web site and contacted him directly for an assignment.

This was Lewis’s first time working with Discover. “Katie was pretty direct and straightforward about what they were looking for. She said they loved my work and just trusted me to do what felt right,” says Lewis. This kind of freedom and support are wonderful for a photographer and Lewis even agreed completely with their edit.

The subject matter for the story involved portraiture and some still life imagery.  The first portrait subject was Dr. Stephen Badylak, a Research Professor in the Department of Surgery and Director of Tissue Engineering at the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh. Badylak developed a material that is a structure upon which the body regrows parts, including limbs and muscle tissue.  He has been working on this new medical process since the 1980s. “Since I’m not a scientist, to me it sounded more like science fiction, as they’re literally regrowing human body parts within the body itself,” says Lewis. The other portrait subject was Cpl. Isaias Hernandez, a Marine who was severely injured from an explosion while serving in Iraq. Cpl. Hernandez lost part of his right leg in an explosion while outfitting his convoy truck. When doctors originally suggested amputation, he refused and fought to keep as much of his leg as possible. Generally people don’t recover from wounds like this when so much muscle is lost.  In the end, his circumstances made him a perfect candidate for Dr. Badylak’s regenerative work. 

The third element to this assignment was the still life or the powder element, Extra Cellular Matrix (ECM), the substance being used to grow the new tissue that comes from a pig’s bladder. The ECM is available as a powder or as a more solid structure depending on how it is being used when treating different areas of the body. Since Lewis would not be able to document actual activity, the portraits and still life imagery had to tell the story and connect the reader to this fascinating and serious subject.

The location for the shoot was a typical science lab. Overhead fluorescent lights, windows and tons of clutter and delicate equipment. Lewis had a decent amount of time to set-up and shoot and a small area in which to work. His lights had to be kept small and focused but still interesting. Dr. Badylak’s work producing the ECM had been dubbed “Pixie Dust” in one earlier magazine article. The name unfortunately has taken hold to the dismay of the doctor. With this in mind, it was important to Lewis to keep the approach respectful. “I didn’t want to play to the “Pixie Dust” label and belittle this scientist’s very serious life’s work,” adds Lewis.

To contrast the dry, cold feel of the lab Lewis brought Cpl.  Hernandez to a beautiful warm-toned wall.  The cold, crisp feel of the lab, where all the science is done, was a good contrast to the warm, rich feel of the person being treated.  Cpl. Hernandez, a marine with striking and stoic good looks, was very effective for the bold concept of the story. Here was a tough soldier who would not give up hope for his leg and was willing to go through grueling physical therapy with a new regeneration process in order to have a more normal life, thanks to Dr. Badylak’s  human tissue research.  With several lighting choices, Lewis gave the story a few different looks for the Discover team to choose from for both Dr. Badylak and Cpl. Hernandez. In the end, they went for the drama, which was appropriate for the story.

Lewis used a Canon 5D, a 35mm f/1.4 lens and a 100mm Macro lens. For lights he used Canon Speedlites and an Alien Bee ABR800 Ringflash, which he rarely uses, but worked well when mixed with the Speedlites for the shots of scientist Dr. Badylak. With limited time and space, the Speedlites also helped keep Lewis’s impact in the working lab to a minimum and allowed him to move quickly through the setups. 
The images of Dr. Badylak and Cpl. Hernandez appeared in the July/August issue of Discover magazine. There have been a few earlier articles reporting on  Badylak’s regenerative tissue medicine, and there is now  more funding from the U.S. Department of Defense to oversee a new study of ECM at he McGowan Institute.  If trials are successful, Badylak believes we could change the way we treat patients with catastrophic limb injuries in the not too distant future.

Assistant Photo Editor Hausenbauer has nothing but praise for Lewis’s work.  “Scott has a classic documentary shooting style, with the skill set of a still-life photographer. His lighting choices come off as dramatic, but never feel forced,” she says.

For Lewis, it is extremely satisfying when everyone is on the same page from start to finish.  This was a project where Discover gave support all the way to the scientist, the marine and the photographer.  You can view the full article from Discover here,   Also see more of Scott Lewis’s portraiture, documentary and lifestyle work at his site, .

Client: Discover Magazine 
Photo Editor- Randi Slatken 
Assistant Photo Editor -Katie Hausenbauer  
Art Director- Erik Basil Spooner
Creative  Director- Mike F. Diioia 
Hair and make-up – Amber Altany