A compelling research paper that was published by a group of researchers shows that the African spiny mouse can be used as a novel model in showing how human regeneration is possible due to its interesting regenerative capabilities.
The Spiny mouse is able to regenerate its own skin something that has never been observed with other mammals. The hope is that it can pave the way for self-healing of wounds and even limb regeneration insights.
There are two species of the African Spiny mouse, known as Acomys kempi and Acomys percivali, and they can not just regenerate skin but also hair follicles, cartilage and glands. The mice can self-amputate their tail and shed the skin in order to escape a pursuing predator.
In fact the the team of biologists observed that the mice had complete regeneration abilities, in that species were able to regrow hair follicles, dermis, glands and cartilage. The researchers compared this similar to the salamander which can regrow new limbs by forming a Blastema which is a mass of lineage restricted progenitor cells at the injured site.
Unusual Mammalian Regeneration
As mentioned elsewhere on this site, most mammals including humans have very limited regenerative possibilities. However, the African spiny mouse is unusual as it can heal wounds a lot more quickly than the mice in the laboratory.
This caught the attention of the regeneration biologist Ashley Seifert from the University of Florida. Who points out that mammals have no problems in blood cell regeneration or epidermis, along with hair regrowth. However, with injuries involving the lost of a finger or limb, mammals do not regenerate but just scar and seal off the wound.
In comparison to the Newt and Salamander, which can regrow limbs, the spinal cord, tissues, skin and even parts of their brain.
Mammal’s regenertive abilities declines with age, but humans that are new born can regrow their finger tips without medical intervention. As the human develops during its childhood, this ability is lost. There are some people who claim that they have regrown their finger tip without medical treatment, but I don’t think this has ever been scientifically recorded or measured.
So given the limited abilities of regeneration in mammals in general the African mouse is certainly an odd fellow among the pack. These mice can shed lumps of flesh in order to escape predators.
It was discovered by Seifert and his team that the mouse whenever it was bitten or attacked resulting in an injury, its brittle skin would fall away. It could also lose up to 60 percent if its skin when it had been injured or attacked like this. The scientists also punched holes (4mm) in the ears of the test subjects, this is where they saw mind blowing regeneration.
Switching On Dormant Genes
It is believed that it can not be completely a evolutionary process, where regenerative functions has developed to counter for the mice to survive attacks. The team want to investigate the genetic pathways that are allowing this regeneration to occur.
Seifert and his team are thinking along the lines of many scientists about humans, that mammals have their regenerative genetic engine switched off. So looking at the Spiny mouse as a role model to switch the genes back on in other mammals and humans.
This could be the secret and holy grail to human regeneration. All the scientific literature shows that the regenerative powers that exist in the salamander has also been conserved in humans. So it is a matter of not if but when human regeneration will be possible by identifying the correct genes and learning how to turn them back on.
What Was Discovered?
Over the course of three years the mice were taken from central Kenya in the rocky outcroppings. The findings showed that the skin of the spiny mouse was 20 times weaker than the skin of mice in the lab. This meant that it required 77 times less energy to tear.
It is this breakaway skin that would allow the mouse to escape its predators. These would be snakes, eagles and owls.
The scientists found that when they make small wounds in the skin, then new tissue layers would then become the new skin and grow over the areas that had been injured. This was over a period of three days for an injured area of 4 millimeters. The lab mice would take up to seven days to heal for similar injuries.
Also ears that had 4mm holes punched in them would heal with even hair follicles and cartilage forming without scarring. This surprised scientists. In addition, the healing ears also developed a mass of cells similar to blastemas, which is used by the salamander to regrow missing tissues.
It is felt one of the restrictions in humans to regenerate limbs is the failure to form a blastema. The findings here highlight that mammals and humans might retain a higher potential for regeneration that what was originally thought.
Seifert and his team want to understand what would be the molecular mechanics that these African spiny mice are using to command into existence blastema type structures to occur.
This regenerative potential has never been observed before in mammals until now. On going developments in regenerative medicine with the use of stem cell technologies, have shown that heart, eye and hair cells can be regrown.
It is hard to say but for the moment for a human to be stimulated with natural regeneration and to do something like the Newt does, would require new innovative treatments for people with serious injuries, burns and of course with limb loss. Such things are a long way before fruition however, advances in medicine are moving along.
Next year there will be clinical trials for a kind of stem cell therapy that is believed to regenerate tissues with Newt-like flare. These trials are expected to start in 2017 on certain tissues. My next post will be discussing about this.
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