Lost limbs replaced with a pill? New research says maybe soon

Scientists have long wondered just what gives the young of all species an accelerated capacity to heal after injury. New research designed to answer this question brings us one step closer to developing treatments that will allow our bodies to repair themselves. Lose a leg? Someday you may just take a pill or rub in some cream and grow a new one.

Researchers have identified two genes, Lin28a and IMP1 that supercharge cellular activity at the mitochondrial level. The mitochondria are cellular organs that regulate metabolism. The higher a cell’s metabolism, the more energy it has to repair damage. Lin28a is active during fetal development and shortly thereafter. Over time, the gene seems to simply go quiet. Lin28a is lively in animals that regenerate tissue and regrow lost limbs, like the hydra,the flatworm and salamander. To determine what happens if the gene was revived, scientists conducted research on mice. Results show that mice with the reactivated gene were able to regrow clipped fingertips, experienced faster hair growth than control mice.

Dr. George Daley, of Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard University, led a team of researchers to study this protein in hopes of eventually developing a drug that could activate the body’s ability to heal itself. The results have been promising. According to Daley, “My strongest conclusion is that Lin28a, or drug manipulations that mimic the metabolic effects of Lin28a, enhances wound healing and tissue repair, and thus in the future might translate into improved healing of wounds after surgery or trauma in patients.”

Interestingly, the research found more evidence that makes development of pharmaceuticals more likely. Lead author of the study, Shyh-Chang Ng of Harvard Medical School shares “One of our experiments showed that bypassing Lin28a and directly activating mitochondrial metabolism with a small-molecule compound also had the effect of enhancing wound healing, suggesting that it could be possible to use drugs to promote tissue repair in humans.”

Questions remain as to why this gene seems to go dormant with age. Some suggest that this is a protective mechanism against cancer and other age related diseases.

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