Science Breakthrough Helps Veterans Regrow Limbs
Isn’t it amazing how salamanders are able to naturally regrow limbs? What if the process could be reverse engineered and used to treat amputations in humans? Humans have often turned to nature to seek inspiration for some of their greatest inventions. Could observing salamanders and other animals with regenerative abilities hold the key to extremity regeneration in humans? If that were to happen, it would certainly be the biggest breakthrough in regenerative medicine.
According to Lt. Col. David Sanders, a high ranking official of the US Army based in Maryland serving as extremity repair product manager, speaking at symposium on Military Health System Research held in August 2017 in Florida, military scientists may not be there yet but the ball has already been set rolling in the right direction.
Limb injuries make the bulk of combat injuries some of which require amputation. An estimated 1,650 American troops returned home with missing arms, hands, feet and legs in the aftermath of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Although prosthetic limbs continue to improve the functionality of injured extremities of both military and civilian amputees across the country, military regenerative medicine scientists are increasingly exploring extremity regeneration as a viable alternative.
Salamanders’ uncanny ability to regenerate muscles, bones, nerves and blood vessels serves as the perfect template of what regeneration really looks like. In a 2016 research, scientist amputated the appendages of a salamander, a zebrafish, and a bichir and studied what happens at the amputation sites at the genetic level. What they found out she some light on what may actually be behind limb regeneration. The 3 animals were found to share 10 similar microRNAs which functioned in the very same way. If 10 microRNAs in humans can be programmed to work in the same way the 10 microRNAs were found to work in the 3 animals, could it make a difference? Scientists seem to think so.
Another study found out that some immune cell found in axolotl, an aquatic salamander, called macrophages played a crucial role in the early stages of limb regeneration. When macrophages were wiped out from the immune system of some test subjects using a chemical substance, regeneration never occurred. Rather, build up scar-tissues were observed. These findings have given scientists fresh insights that may come handy in developing tissue repair strategies for humans.
Other limb regeneration and restoration techniques to regrow limbs, which scientist are currently working on, that got mentioned at the military symposium were:
Synthetic grafts are showing great promise in initiating the growth process of nerve, muscle, connective and vascular tissues.Although the procedure is still not close to the real thing, scientists aim to make it as restorative as humanly possible, resistant to infections and durable enough to last a couple of decades.
Synthetic bone gap fillers
To treat bones, another US Army researcher, Stephanie Shiels, is pushing the envelopes by trying to develop a synthetic filler capable filling the gap left between damaged bones. To reduce and prevent infections, the researcher is exploring the possibility of infusing the bone gap fillers a range of antimicrobial.
Besides deep tissue wounds, skin injuries are also problematic and military scientists are looking to come up with skin regeneration techniques. Many soldiers and civilians suffer large cuts and burns in leaving ugly scars. While the human skin is inherently self-regenerative, it does not do a good job.
The aim of the skin regeneration research is to help the skin heal scar-free. Jason Brant, a University of Florida researcher believes the African Spiny Mouse may hold the key to scar-free skin regeneration. The mouse has the ability to recover scar-free after losing large chunks of its skin. Since the mouse has many predators, it is believed to have evolved this capability to help it survive after a harrowing encounter with a predator. What aids this remarkable recovery? That is what Brant is trying to find out. The researcher believes that it could a certain kind of protein inherent to the mouse. Can the protein be synthesized to help humans recover scar-free? Only time will tell. And only time will tell if science will really be able to find a way to help the fallen vets regrow limbs.
Still on scaring, According to another military researcher, Army Maj. Samuel Tahk, scarring can be reduced by using a biocompatible sponge to treat fresh wounds. He is investigating the ability of biocompatible sponge to reduce scarring by promoting healing and believes the sponge provide the scaffold needed to initiate regenerative growth.
With these developments to regrow limbs, it appears that regenerative medicine is not far away from developing effective techniques for skin, muscle, bone and even limb regeneration. However, there is the need for patience as more time, effort and resources are needed to make it a reality. Although military researchers are spearheading the effort, there is no doubt that civilians will also benefit in the event of a breakthrough.
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