I Wish I Was Part Salamander
Author: Sarah Hoffman
“The secret of how salamanders successfully regrow body parts is being unravelled by UCL researchers in a bid to apply it to humans.
For the first time, researchers have found that the ‘ERK pathway’ must be constantly active for salamander cells to be reprogrammed, and hence able to contribute to the regeneration of different body parts.” –‘Limb Regeneration: Do Salamanders Hold the Key?‘ ucl.ac.uk
Mystery no more! Scientists now know why us humans are unable to regrow limbs when we lose one, unlike salamanders who are able to regenerate cells and limbs very successfully. The reason has been linked to something called the ERK Pathway, which is basically like one of those tubes you use to pass documents between yourself and the teller at the bank drive-through– except this biological “tube” is made up of proteins which pass information from the surface of the cell to the DNA at the nucleus. The difference between our ERK Pathway and the salamanders’ is that ours has bank hours, while the salamander has 24/7 fast-food-chain hours. Our pathway is open for a limited time, while the ERK Pathway of a salamander is capable of working all day every day which results in constant cell growth and ultimate limb regeneration. Pretty cool, right?! What’s even cooler is that researchers are trying to figure out if we can force this in humans and other mammals. And so far so good! While we are unable at this point to regrow our limbs like a salamander, these researchers have found out that when our ERK Pathway is forced open our bodies are capable of continuing to grow these cells with the intention of regeneration. But here’s where it takes a turn– our cells become dedifferentiated, meaning that these cells lack the blueprint to turn into a limb, but could potentially be programmed and manipulated into one. In other words, we can get the process going but the process requires further manipulation in order to complete it.
Imagine not having to worry about shutting your fingers in the car door, or accidentally putting your hand in the garbage disposal… pretty neat!
Tens to hundreds of thousands of patients have already been treated with stem cells and the treatments have a high ratio of success but stem cell therapy and regenerative medicine is a relatively new science. We know a great deal more about WHAT stem cells can fix than we know HOW they fix things on the molecular level…but we are learning very quickly and the therapeutic and healing potential is incredible!