Did you know that salamanders are able to regrow limbs? They can do so thanks to blastema cells, which allow for the almost instant mass formation of stem cells. It’s a relatively unique and fascinating trait!
Thanks to research by the Allen Discovery Centre at Tufts University, frogs are now able to mirror this regenerative function. Not only will this help our beloved amphibians, but it could also work towards developing treatment for humans that have lost limbs.
ABGI, a leading provider of support for R&D tax credits, has explored this innovative research breakthrough and its potential to improve healthcare.
How is science transforming the natural biology of frogs?
Science is transforming nature one frog at a time. To make this a reality, scientist amputated and treated 115 adult African claw frogs with multiple drugs designed to ease inflammation, halt collagen production (in turn avoiding scarring) and encourage the growth of nerve fibres, blood vessels and muscle.
The drugs were then placed into a wearable dome called a BioDome, which was sealed over the frog's stump for 24 hours. The regeneration process then began after the removal of the BioDome.
The regeneration process doesn’t happen overnight. It took the amputated frogs 18 months to regrow their legs.
This may seem like a long time, but when you consider that this included a bone structure and internal tissue that resembled the original frogs’ anatomies, it’s a reasonable timeframe. Even though the legs did not regrow impeccably – for example, there were no bones in the toes – the frogs were able to use them when swimming and moving.
How are regenerative drugs beneficial to humans?
Even a brief exposure to the treatment can trigger limb regeneration in frogs, which has led scientist Nirosha Murugan to believe that that “other animals may have dormant regenerative capabilities that can be triggered into action” ... possibly including humans.
Just like frogs, humans and most other mammals have little to no regenerative abilities. We can regrow tissue to close a wound, for example, suggesting that our bodies have some innate knowledge on how to regenerate flesh. But there is a big difference between tissue regrowth and bone structure reproduction.
However, with the development of the BioDome, there may be hope for humans yet.
If both frogs and humans share similar abilities to develop scar tissue when cut, it is possible that BioDome would have a similar effect when tested on humans.
In fact, Michael Levin, director of the Allen Discovery Centre at Tufts University, has commented that they will be testing the treatment on mammals next: “It’s a strategy focused on triggering dormant, inherent anatomical patterning programmes, not micromanaging complex growth, since adult animals still have the information needed to make their body structures.”
We have a long way to go before regenerative medicine may be tested on humans. Nevertheless, the discovery that the BioDome enables frogs to regrow almost complete limbs is a huge leap for science.
In time, people that lose limbs as a result of health conditions, such as diabetes and cancer, could be given the chance to reclaim their independence alongside prosthetics.