One gene lost, one limb regained?
A quest that began over a decade ago with a chance observation has reached a milestone: the identification of a gene that may regulate regeneration in mammals. In a recent report, researchers from The Wistar Institute demonstrate that mice that lack the p21 gene gain the ability to regenerate lost or damaged tissue. The absence of this single gene, called p21, confers a healing potential in mice long thought to have been lost through evolution and reserved for creatures like flatworms, sponges, and some species of salamander.
Unlike typical mammals, which heal wounds by forming a scar, these mice begin by forming a blastema, a structure associated with rapid cell growth and de-differentiation as seen in amphibians. According to the Wistar researchers, the loss of p21 causes the cells of these mice to behave more like embryonic stem cells than adult mammalian with rapid cell growth
While we are just beginning to understand the repercussions of these findings, perhaps, one day we’ll be able to accelerate healing in humans
“Much like a newt that has lost a limb, these mice will replace missing or damaged tissue with healthy tissue that lacks any sign of scarring,” said the project’s lead scientist Ellen Heber-Katz, Ph.D., a professor in Wistar’s Molecular and Cellular Oncogenesis program. “While we are just beginning to understand the repercussions of these findings, perhaps, one day we’ll be able to accelerate healing in humans by temporarily inactivating the p21 gene.”