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Will we ever be able to regrow limbs?

Will we ever be able to regrow limbs?
Doctor Li Tongqiang's equipment lies on a table in his medical clinic in the village of Jianhua, located on the outskirts of the northern Chinese city of Shuangcheng in Heilongjiang province March 29, 2011. Li is one of 800 'country' doctors that care for around 600,000 mostly farmers and their families who live in the rural areas surrounding the city of Shuangcheng. Li's annual salary is around 25,000 Yuan (US$3,900), and he sees around 15-20 patients per day, visiting homes of patients if they are unable to visit his clinic. China is in the midst of overhauling the biggest healthcare infrastructure in human history and in the past month, has pledged more money to bring more people under its insurance scheme, raise the levels of reimbursements, and improve services to meet the needs of a 1.33 billion population. Picture taken March 29, 2011. REUTERS/David Gray (CHINA - Tags: HEALTH SOCIETY)

Washington: A team of researchers are studying the genetics of the lower organisms, which retain the ability to regenerate form and function of almost any tissue after injury, to find out how regenerative mechanisms might be activated in humans.

Using sophisticated tools, scientists at the MDI Biological Laboratory have identified genetic regulators governing regeneration that are common across species.

In a paper, scientists Benjamin L. King and Voot P. Yin identified these common genetic regulators in three regenerative species: the zebrafish, a common aquarium fish originally from India; the axolotl, a salamander native to the lakes of Mexico; and the bichir, a ray-finned fish from Africa.

The discovery of genetic mechanisms common to all three of these species, which diverged on the evolutionary tree about 420 million years ago, suggests that these mechanisms aren’t specific to individual species, but have been conserved by nature through evolution.

The discovery of the common genetic regulators is expected to serve as a platform to inform new hypotheses about the genetic mechanisms underlying limb regeneration. The discovery also represents a major advance in understanding why many tissues in humans, including limb tissue, regenerate poorly and in being able to possibly manipulate those mechanisms with drug therapies.

“Limb regeneration in humans may sound like science fiction, but it’s within the realm of possibility,” said Yin. “The fact that we’ve identified a genetic signature for limb regeneration in three different species with three different types of appendages suggests that nature has created a common genetic instruction manual governing regeneration that may be shared by all forms of animal life, including humans.”

While speedier wound-healing and improved prostheses may be on the nearer-term horizon, the ability to regrow limbs is a long way off. How long? “It depends on the pace of discovery, which is heavily dependent on funding,” Yin said.

He predicted the timeline could be hastened if enough research funding were available. “Unfortunately,” he added, “we are in a period of greatly diminished funding for scientific research.”

The study is published in the journal PLOS ONE. (ANI)