For over three centuries, medical science has been fascinated with species who can regenerate a limb after a loss. Imagine if humans were able to do that? I was surprised to discover that human babies have the capacity to regenerate the tips of toes. I wonder if that’s due to evolution because baby toenails are hard to clip. Don’t groan.
Recent studies have improved the understanding of regeneration of limbs by studying three species who have such capacity: zebrafish, the bichir and the axolotl, a type of salamander found in Mexico. The species all have the same micro-RNA responsible for the production of blastemal cells, the first step in the regeneration process. With the steps of the process understood, researchers hope that the prospect of discovery of a way to induce regeneration in humans has advanced.
Micro-RNA was only discovered in 1993. These small molecules regulate cell growth, development, and differentiation. They are associated with a number of diseases such as cancer and heart ailments. As such they could become biomarkers for cancer diagnostics and cardiac dysfunction. As I conduct research for my blogs, I am amazed at the potential for cures from understanding our genes.
One of the researchers on regeneration expressed doubts over future funding. Further, there is competition with better and better artificial limbs and advancement in ability to transplant body parts. NASA innovations are used by private companies to produce vastly improved artificial limbs. Special foams now make prosthetics more comfortable and lifelike, diamond coatings make their joints last longer, and robotics allow them to operate more like real limbs.1 A woman in Canada recently underwent a successful forearm transplant.
My hope is that given the importance of all of the implications of understanding genetic information of all living species, microRNA research will continue.