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SciTech

Scientists discover gene for advanced healing and limb regeneration 


In "The Uncanny X-Men", the mutant Wolverine’s healing factor enables him to swiftly recover from wounds and regenerate whole limbs. While this power is a staple of movies and comic books, reality hasn’t quite caught up yet. 
 
However, thanks to the findings of one Harvard researcher and his team, science fiction may soon become science fact.
 
During his research into cancer, George Daley of the Children’s Hospital in Boston and Harvard Medical School, had to experiment on genetically-engineered mice. In order to properly identify his test creatures, Mr Daley had to bore holes in their ears. Frustratingly, these wounds healed quickly.

Mr Daley then tried something else: cutting off the tips of their toes. This time, the toes kept growing back – and all in a matter of a few days.
 
The Lin28a gene
 
It has already been observed that, compared to adult animals, the young are better at recovering from tissue damage, able to completely regenerate tissues while still in the womb. According to the “Scientific American” and Gizmodo, the gene responsible for this is Lin28a.

Lin28a is capable of rewinding the clock of animal cells. But this gene is only active in early life, becoming dormant when those cells reach maturity.
 
The mice Daley was working on were genetically altered so that their Lin28a gene would not be deactivated after birth. Instead, it would continue to exert influence on the creature’s bodies. The unintended effect was that it gave the mice enhanced healing and regenerative powers.
 
“We knew [Lin28a] could reprogram cells back to embryonic-like stem cells but we made this other discovery largely by accident,” said Daley. 
 
His team, which published the results of their studies in the November 7 issue of the “Cell” journal, discovered that these healing abilities could be replicated in ordinary mice by giving them a special kind of drug. This drug triggers the same specific metabolic processes that Lin28a stimulates – causing the non-genetically-altered mice’s cells to behave as if they were much younger.
 
Boosting metabolism is key
 
The study also shows that one of the reasons animals can't regrow lost limbs is because of their metabolism. Lin28a works by boosting this metabolism, tricking the body into thinking it is still in the early stages of its life. This leads to a series of chemical reactions that produce great cellular energy, which in turn causes a surge in the rate of repair of damaged tissues.
 
The gene's powers are limited, however. Even when the gene was stimulated, five-week-old mice no longer had the capacity to regenerate lost limbs. Lin28a was also unable to repair tissue damage to the heart, which made the researchers suggest that the protein affects only specific parts of the body.
 
The key to advanced regeneration in humans has been the holy grail for many scientists. And while we’re still a long way off from reproducing Wolverine’s instantaneous healing abilities, the good news is that there are a multitude of other genes yet to be examined, genes that may also be involved in tissue regeneration. 
 
Now that scientists are aware that the body’s healing process can be manipulated by tweaking specific metabolic processes, they can start looking for these other genes.
 
It might be too early to say, but further research into Lin28a and similar genes could potentially yield impressive results that might eventually pave the way for faster healing. – KDM, GMA News
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