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Salamander: Regrow Human Limbs? Scientists Study Regenerating Amphibian

Salamander: Regrow Human Limbs? Scientists Study Regenerating Amphibian

By    |   Friday, 20 June 2014 01:15 PM

Salamanders may hold the secret to regrowing human limbs.

A new study published in the latest issue of Stem Cell Reports focuses on the "ERK pathway," a chain of proteins that activates new limb growth in injured salamanders. New understandings about the pathway offer scientists fresh possibilities in the quest to repair injured and amputated limbs of humans.

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"The suggestion that the ERK pathway needs to be active, that can guide research," lead researcher Dr. Max Yun, at the University College London Institute of Structural and Molecular Biology, explained to Fox News. "We can use this information and can try to apply it as we speak. In the longer term, if we were to try to induce humans to regrow their arms, [this pathway] would be something we’d have in mind."

The EKR pathway was found by researchers to remain constantly active in salamanders until their appendage had fully grown back. The pathway can remain active for up to three days in the amphibians, but the loss of a limb by a human doesn't trigger the pathway at all. Under lab conditions, researchers were able to induce pathway activity in some mammals, but only for up to two hours.

"We’d have to find ways of activating the ERK pathway in the adult tissues in humans, in this case to regrow an arm," Yun said. "There are probably other things that we have to manipulate for the process to go well, but this is quite an important part of it."

Yun noted that salamanders are not unique in their ability to regrow limbs — cockroaches, starfish, and lobsters can do it too — but said it is the most popular to research because it is the creature closest to human biology that has the gift. In addition to limb generation, they can also regenerate eyes, heart tissue, spinal cord sections, and brain tissue.

"They can lose their limbs at 20 years old, and they will still regenerate it, and they will do it perfectly. When these animals lose their limbs, the new limb that they grow looks exactly the same as the limb they lost," he said.

While speaking with Michael Levin, director of the Center for Regenerative and Developmental Biology at Tufts, Slate was told that the "champions" of regeneration are Planaria flatworms who can "regenerate their heads complete with information they learned prior to decapitation!"

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Salamanders may hold the secret to regrowing human limbs.
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Friday, 20 June 2014 01:15 PM
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