By taking a leaf from nature's book of oddities, one group of scientists has shown that mammals can be coaxed into using the newt's unusual technique [of regrowing body parts] to make fresh tissue. In a study being published Friday in the journal Cell Stem Cell, scientists at Stanford University describe how they got muscle tissue in mice to regenerate, essentially re-awakening an ability that had been thought lost over evolutionary time. Such mature tissues normally don't divide and proliferate.
"As far as I'm aware, until this paper, no one's been able to [achieve this result] in mammals," said Malcolm Maden of the University of Florida, an expert on regeneration who read the study but wasn't connected with it. "It's a great bringing together of mammals and newts."
The work is in early stages - "years and many hurdles away from any potential human application" - but the prospect of mammals being able to regenerate tissue in the same way as newts do and possibly heal themselves is intriguing. In a release, my colleague Krista Conger discusses next steps for Blau and her colleagues:
Next, the researchers would like to see if the technique works in other cell types, like those of the pancreas or the heart, and whether they can induce it to happen in tissue at sites of injury. If so, it may be possible to trigger temporary cell proliferation as a means of therapy for a variety of ailments.
Photo by jurvetson