Regeneration project

By • Published: April 1st, 2010
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

For more than four centuries, scientists have studied the amazing regenerative power of salamanders, trying to understand how these creatures routinely repair injuries that would leave humans and other mammals paralyzed… or worse.

Now, an international team of researchers associated with the University of Florida’s Regeneration Project has begun creating the tools necessary to understand the body systems and genes of the Mexican axolotl [ax-o-lot-ahl] salamander.

The axolotl [ax-o-lot-ahl] is the undisputed champion of vertebrate regeneration.

In fact, it is the highest, most complex organism that in adulthood can still do the clever trick of completely reconstructing whole limbs and even parts of its central nervous system.

The issue of what controls organ regeneration was named among the top twenty-five major questions facing scientists in the next quarter century by Science magazine.

The advantage today’s scientists keen on learning from the salamander have? Genetic and cellular technologies in the past decade have taken a quantum leap forward.

Likewise, scientific knowledge of the salamander and human genomes has risen to a level where scientists can finally compare their systemwide responses to injury.

To think of it in construction terms, where bricks, mortar and architect’s plans are used to build a house, scientists instead want to learn how to reconstruct muscles, bones, nerves and blood vessels at the right time and in the right place, all in perfect coordination with the original biological master plan.

It may sound like science fiction, but the reality is the humble salamander is able to do all of these things.

Can human capacity to regenerate be improved through a little help from our amphibious friends?

Scientists think the time has come to find out.