News Stories

Will We Soon Regrow Severed Limbs?

What if victims of terrorism, who have had their limbs hacked off, could grow a new one? What if a paralyzed person could grow a new spine?or someone with heart disease could grow a new heart? This might be something that actually comes true, in the not-so-distant future.

Scientists are studying zebrafish to see how it's done. If a zebrafish loses a chunk of its tail fin, it'll grow back within a week. Like lizards, newts, and frogs, a zebrafish can replace surprisingly complex body parts. A tail fin, for example, has many different types of cells and is a very intricate structure. It is the fish version of an arm or leg.

The question of how cold-blooded animals re-grow missing tails and other appendages has long fascinated veterinary and medical scientists. They also wonder if people, and other warm-blooded animals that evolved from these simpler creatures, might still have untapped regenerative powers hidden in their genes.

We're constantly regrowing brain cells (neurons), and skin and blood cells. If we break a bone, it will grow back together. We can sometimes even grow a new liver. Researcher Randall Moon says, "The ability to regenerate body parts such as those that are damaged by injury or disease involves creating cells that can take any number of new roles. This can be done by re-programming cells that already have a given function?[so that they will pay another role in our bodies]."

The same genes for turning on and turning off growth and development that exist in the zebrafish are also found in humans. Now we just have to figure out how to turn them on.

Art credit: freeimages.co.uk

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