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Regeneration study could offer hope to humans

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The genes and proteins in salamanders and frog tadpoles hold secrets that IUPUI researchers hope will lead them to discover how to regenerate limbs and tissues in humans.

Scientists with the Indiana University Center for Regenerative Biology and Medicine will use a three-year, $1.6 million gift from the W.M. Keck Foundation of Los Angeles to study amphibians’ regenerative powers.
“We are trying to find out how this is done in animals that already know how to do it,” said David L. Stocum, center director and biology professor at IU-Purdue Indianapolis.

The research may lead to drugs that could help heal a spinal injury or restore degenerating eyesight, or “smart bandages” that would regenerate an amputated finger or tissue of a wound, according to Stocum.

Center researchers, alog with collaborators at the Institute for Genomic Biology at the University of Illinois, will work to identify and compare the genes and proteins that either permit or prevent the Regeneration of tissues in amphibians.

The grant will fund post-doctoral fellows and technicians and purchase research supplies for work to be done at IUPUI and at the University of Illinois. Salamanders, larvae and adults, and frog tadpoles can regenerate limbs, the spinal cord, eye lens and retina, intestine and heart muscle. Adult frogs, however, lose the power to regenerate.

Stocum said research will concentrate on appendages, the spinal cord and retina — all subject to devastating injuries and disease in humans.

While mammals have the genes responsible for regeneration in amphibians, they are used to make the proteins that inhibit regeneration, not promote it, Stocum explained. The goal is to neutralize the proteins that prevent regeneration or find the proteins that promote it.

After that is accomplished, Stocum said, researchers hope to test the proteins in mice to see if they will regenerate digits.

Then the discoveries would need to be translated into pharmaceutical therapies, using those molecules that stimulate regeneration in frogs to do the same in human tissues that fail to regenerate, he added.

This treatment would be tried first on human wounds in the skin and muscle, using “smart bandages” that direct tissues to regenerate rather than scar, before advancing to digits and the spinal cord.

Researchers also hope to solve two other mysteries of appendage regeneration. Stocum said they want to find out if adult stem cells participate in appendage regeneration in amphibians. Also, he wants to answer how the regenerating appendage knows when to stop the process.

By Barb Berggoetz
Call Star reporter Barb Berggoetz at (317) 444-6294.
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