Cells that control the regeneration of body parts have been found in tadpoles but scientists think the discovery holds promise for finding a mechanism to do the same in mammals – including people.
A tadpole will grow a new tail if it loses the original but no one has known how. Now researchers at the University of Cambridge have isolated what they call “regeneration-organizing cells” that spark stem cells to grow into a new tail.
The investigators used a new technique that allowed them to watch what happens in individual cells as the regeneration process takes place. They found that these regeneration-organizing cells migrate to the wound and secrete a blend of biochemicals that orchestrate the response of cells that then guide the actual regeneration.
The Cambridge findings were published as researchers at Tufts University in Boston revealed a computer model of regeneration in flatworms, biology’s favorite lab critter for this kind of work. The model was able to predict which biochemical factors in regeneration would create a specific result.
This pair of discoveries may give scientists a toolkit to use as they try to figure out how humans could regenerate lost limbs.
In mammals, the liver and skin are among the very few organs that can regenerate. But the Cambridge and Tufts discoveries open trails that could lead to similar mechanisms in humans, either by stimulating possibly dormant cells or by genetically engineering the process.