Mouse can help us grow body parts

A CHANCE discovery has shown that mammals, including human beings, have the potential to regrow large portions of destroyed tissue. One day it may even be possible to regrow severed digits and limbs, thanks to a mutant mouse that can repair its pierced ears.

Amphibians such as the salamander can regenerate entire fore and hind limbs, while lizards can regrow their tails. Mammals had appeared to be quite incapable of this extraordinary act. If they are severely wounded they manage a crude repair of the damage with scar tissue.

But yesterday a scientist at a private medical research centre in Philadelphia revealed to the American Association for the Advancement of Science how, five years ago, she had stumbled across a strain of mouse which does have the ability to regenerate lost tissue. Her work is soon to be published in a medical journal.

Even when one centimetre - about a sixth - of its tail is sliced off at the tip, this type of mouse can regrow three-quarters of the missing portion of tail, with a normal looking covering of skin and hair.

Professor Ellen Heber-Katz, an immunologist at the Wistar Institute in Philadelphia, discovered the "healer" mouse when she was carrying out work on various mouse strains aimed at understanding what underlies multiple sclerosis. She was using a strain with a mutation which made it "autoimmune" - its infection- fighting immune system goes into unprovoked overdrive, eventually killing the mouse prematurely.

In most research work on miceeach animal has to be marked individually so that the researchers can identify it. Usually this is done by making a pattern of small holes through their thin ears, which are then permanent.

But in the mice Dr Heber-Katz was using these holes closed up and disappeared. The researchers, thinking they had made a mistake, re-pierced the mice ears. The holes closed again, with a full replacement of the layers of skin - the epidermis and dermis - along with cartilage, fatty tissue, sweat glands and small blood vessels. The regrown, regenerated ears looked normal with no scar tissue.

This regeneration seems very similar to what happens in amphibians. At the site of the wound a bulge of rapidly dividing immature cells form with the potential to become different tissues - rather like a very early embryo. Furthermore, in the flesh next to the wound a thick layer of protein, the extracellular matrix, which normally separates different types of tissue is seen to break down during the rebuilding process.

Since making the discovery, the research team has found there are several genetic differences linked to its ability to regenerate body parts. There is probably a network of genes shared between mammals and amphibians which carry the instructions for limb regeneration, but in mammals they have been permanently switched off in the course of evolution.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Life and Style
A nurse tends to a recovering patient on a general ward at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham
health
News
science
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
News
Chuck Norris pictured in 1996
people
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Lucas, I SCREAM DADDIO, Installation View, British Pavilion 2015
artWhy Sarah Lucas is the perfect choice to represent British art at the Venice Biennale
News
A voter placing a ballot paper in the box at a polling station
i100
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
Sport
football
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin

£13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...

Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

£18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

£20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power