A new specialized group of skin cells has been identified by scientists at the University of Cambridge that control tail regeneration in tadpoles of the African clawed frog. This discovery has the potential and will contribute to the on-going research in helping amputees regrow their lost limbs. Such a breakthrough would bring about a revolution in medical science as patients go on a more regenerative pathway on their journey of recovery.
If a human suffers major trauma such as limb loss then that person’s life has changed forever as at the moment there is no known cure. The only option is advanced prosthetics which does provide some regained function.
However, while most sophisticated technologies such as neuron motor integration to regain some form of touch, as well as movement there, can be no substitute for the patient’s own natural flesh and blood limb.
New Solutions Needed
There have been great advances in these technologies in improving an amputee’s quality of life, but there are many situations where they do not always work too well depending on the patient’s circumstances.
Many visitors to this site have shared their own experiences of such life-changing injuries and the problems with prosthetics along with the limitations of the health insurance that they are able to afford.
If a patient has lost part of their limb below the knee then potentially they can continue relatively normal lives and nothing will stop them achieving great commendable goals especially in the field of sports or working for a cause. This will all depend though if they have sufficient support and adequate financial resources.
If the amputee has experienced limb loss above the knee then it can be a whole different story where a prosthetic may not be able to be integrated at all and the patient being unable to walk and confined to a wheelchair. Since they have been unable to find a solution for fitting advanced prosthetics allowing them to walk.
However, despite these problems, it is important to point out that an amputee who has suffered limb loss has been able to achieve great achievements. The fact that they have been able to deal with the challenges with their emotional well being and maintaining their physical health is a powerful testament.
However, no matter how good prosthetics technologies have become at improving the quality of an amputees life there can be no replacement for the patient’s own limb.
It is time now to think completely out of the box.
What if prosthetics could be the era of the dark ages?
What if suffering from limb loss for the patient could be a thing of the past?
This is the holy grail and what this website is about, documenting what scientists around the world are striving for one day. If you are someone who has experienced limb loss or some other life-changing injury know that this website was created for you. To offer a positive outlook on new powerful technologies that will occur eventually.
When will such a major breakthrough happen? It is difficult to say as it depends on many variables and what the scientist you speak with specializing in this subject. Some say it could be in 15 years with the ability to regrow a new arm or leg. Others say it will be longer.
Perhaps around 10 years ago experts considered that it would be 50 years before they can regrow a new heart but today it could be as little as 10 years away. This is because of the great advances in regenerative medicine that have been made.
If you are able to regrow something as complex as a new heart then you are well on your way to regrow a new limb.
There are many specialist experts in this field who are convinced that organ and limb regeneration will occur during our lifetimes.
It is not just about the regrowth of a lost limb but also organ regeneration as organ donor shortages are expected to become a major epidemic. Clearly, new innovative solutions with regenerative medicine are the much-needed calvary appearing over the horizon.
The researchers at Cambridge University mentioned above, have identified a new population of cells of the skin that coordinate tail regeneration in frogs and tadpoles and it is helping to reveal one of the greatest unanswered questions in nature.
In addition, offering insights on how these ‘Regeneration-Organizing Cells’ can be achieved in mammalian tissues. That, of course, means humans.
For a long, long time now, there has been an affirmation that some animals can regenerate their own tails after amputation. In fact, even in the 4th century (BC), Aristotle observed this. The mechanisms, however, have never been truly understood.
At the Wellcome Trust / Cancer Research UK Gurdon Institute at Cambridge University used a clever new approach using ‘single-cell genomics’ that uncovered what happens when different tadpole cells initiate tail regeneration.
Cambridge has been leading the way with new advances with next-generation gene sequencing. This means that researchers can now identify which of those relevant genes are being expressed or turned on for a particular area of tissues or even the whole organism from the distinguishing of individual cells.
As mentioned above this method is known as ‘single-cell genomics’ and it allows to observe different cell types with a greater resolution based on the selection of genes that are active.
These new discoveries in science for regeneration are starting to expose a clinical roadmap of cellular lineages and identities.
Also, it reveals areas of research that control the way cells choose between different pathways when it comes to embryonic development to create a range of types of cells in adulthood.
Innovative Regeneration Technologies
The scientists involved in this study are Dr. Tom Hiscock and Can Aztekin with the leadership of Dr. Jermone Jullien. They did a detailed analysis with injured African Clawed Frogs (Xenopus laevis) observing the cell types that are involved in regeneration. Their findings are published in the Journal of Science.
Quoting from Scientific Daily, according to Dr. Tom Hiscock the tadpoles,
“…can regenerate their tails throughout their life… but there is a two-day period at a precise stage in development where they lose this ability.”
He also continues:
“We exploited this natural phenomenon to compare the cell types present in tadpoles capable of regeneration and those no longer capable.”
The orchestration of the regeneration response of the stem cells is through a subset of a larger population of skin cells termed ‘Regeneration-Organizing’ Cells or ROCs.
The scientist Can Aztekin says:
“…After tail amputation, ROCS migrate from the body to the wound and secrete a cocktail of growth factors that coordinate the response of tissue precursor cells. These cells then work together to regenerate a tail of the right size, pattern and cell composition.”
Human Limb and Organ Regeneration
If we look at mammals in nature with their biological and healing processes, it can be seen that many tissues such as intestinal epithelium, skin epidermis, and the general blood system have a continued turn over during its lifetime.
You can have cells being lost by injury and with ‘wear and tear’ get reproduced by stem cells. This is all very good but these specialized cells are limited and focused primarily on tissue sub-lineages.
However, the ability to regrow human body parts has been lost and the only exception is the liver and skin. In fact, even with the organs of the liver and skin, the regenerative potentials are limited.
Professor Benjamin Simons who was a co-author of the study explains that one has to understand the mechanisms that are required to be activated that allow some creatures to regrow whole organs.
This he says is the key and major breakthrough in understanding whether the same kind of regeneration can be activated in mammal tissues that would lead to clinical applications.
I wrote about new limb regeneration research on the adult African Clawed Frog and how scientists had partially managed to regrow their legs using a Bioreactor Device. A recent new study now shows how the African Clawed Tadpole can regrow its eyes after injury which has the potential for tissue regeneration in humans.
There will be much more research and insights for new treatments coming from the African Clawed Frog as things move along.
How do you feel about the discoveries being made in this article? Please let me know your comments below and share this article with others.
In my next article, I will be discussing new research in 3D Printing of Human Organs. To be notified when this and all future publications get posted online be sure to subscribe to my free Limb Regrow signup to keep in touch and up to date.