Limb or organ regrowth may be hidden in our genes
If you trace our evolutionary tree way back to its roots — long before the shedding of gills or the development of opposable thumbs — you will likely find a common ancestor with the amazing ability to regenerate lost body parts. In an effort to understand what was lost, researchers have built a running list of the genes that enable regenerating animals to grow back a severed tail or repair damaged tissues.
A Duke study appearing April 6 in the journal Nature has discovered the presence of these regulatory sequences in zebrafish, a favored model of regeneration research. Called “tissue regeneration enhancer elements” or TREEs, these sequences can turn on genes in injury sites and even be engineered to change the ability of animals to regenerate.
UC San Francisco researchers have for the first time developed a method to precisely control embryonic stem cell differentiation with beams of light, enabling them to be transformed into neurons in response to a precise external cue.
“We’ve discovered a basic mechanism the cell uses to decide whether to pay attention to a developmental cue or to ignore it,” said senior author Matthew Thomson, PhD, a researcher in the department of Cellular and Molecular Pharmacology and the Center for Systems and Synthetic Biology at UCSF.
Thomson’s ambitious big idea is to use the light-inducible differentiation technology his group has developed to study how stem cells produce complex tissues in three dimensions. He imagines a day when researchers can illuminate a bath of undifferentiated stem cells with a pattern of different colors of light and come back the next day to find a complex pattern of blood and nerve and liver tissue forming an organ that can be transplanted into a patient.
Researchers in the United Kingdom and Malaysia are developing a new class of injectable material that stimulates stem cells to regenerate damaged tissue and form new blood vessels, heart and bone tissue.