Recently, a study has been launched, which, if fruitful, may enable future generations to heal without scarring and grow their own replacement limbs. A research team at Manchester University, headed by Dr Enrique Amaya, and partly funded by The Healing Foundation charity, is looking to animals for clues to how the body can regenerate.
Prof Amaya will focus on the genetics of wound healing and regeneration in frog embryos, which can heal without scars within hours, a feat possible for human embryos until the age of about six months. Adult frogs retain the capacity and salamanders can even grow new tails and limbs when severed. According to Prof Amaya, humans most likely lose this perfect healing capacity with age, because it is important to heal wounds quickly to avoid infections.
Over the next 25 years, this team will study what genes and cells are important for regeneration and see if the same can be encouraged to happen in mammals, starting with mice and moving ultimately to humans if successful. They will first see if the salamander's ability can be reproduced in the frog, before moving on to mice, then people.
Humans and amphibians share as much as 85 % of the same genes, so it is likely that adult humans do have, in a silenced form, the genes that would enable scarless healing. By working out which genes govern wound healing in the fetus and which genes come into play in the adult, the team hopes to identify the genetic factors at work and develop drugs that would coerce the human body to heal itself when damaged.
The work could mean that people who are severely scarred will be able to heal without any trace of the injury. Similarly, people who lose a limb through trauma may be able to grow a new one identical to the one that they lost.