Utah Researchers Discover Key to Manipulating Regeneration

Utah Researchers Discover Key to Manipulating Regeneration

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Ed Yeates reportingUtah researchers have found out how to manipulate a switch that controls regeneration. Though performed in the tiniest of worms, the possible implications for regenerating organs and tissue in humans are far reaching.

When Darth Vader severs Luke Skywalker's hand in the The Empire Strikes Back, he gets it replaced with a bionic hand. But what if instead of a robotic limb, the hand would just re-grow.

A tiny fragment 1-279th the size of a worm, when removed will regenerate into a whole worm again. Worms do it because all the cells shown in the darkened area here have genes to regenerate a whole animal.

Now, Dr. Alejandro Alvarado and his colleagues at the University of Utah have found a way to silence this gene, hoping to learn more about how it works.

Dr. Alejandro Sanchez Alvarado, U of U Neurobiology & Anatomy: "When we see why it's on when it's on and what turns it off when it's off, and if you can understand those molecules, then we might understand what the switch is."

We have the same gene for regeneration, but if follows a different command. For now at least, we can't regenerate a finger or a hand should we lose one. But those genes are regenerating other things inside our body - so much so - we're not the same person we were 24 hours ago.

Alvarado: "In our bodies, we are normally turning over or shedding off anywhere between 40 to 70 billion cells per day."

Our livers already regenerate. So do the linings in our gut. While Alvarado says hands and limbs are a long way off, if even possible then, regrowing internal parts, like in the brain, may be close at hand.

Alvarado: "The molecules involved in producing a neuron, they're basically the same molecules. So that basically tells us we should be able to coax something out of them to allow us to produce those kind of things."

Alvarado expects we could see cell types produced on demand in his lifetime.

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