British scientists have identified the “smed-prop” genes that allow Planarian flatworms to regenerate any part of their body, including heads and brains, after an injury. Next step: regrowing human heads.
The genes are contained in stem cells that all of the worms, even adults, have. And by figuring out how they’re able to regenerate body parts, they hope to parlay that into figuring out how to make the same sort of thing happen in humans.
The doc suggests that it may be possible in future to simply grow new organs and limbs for injuried or sick humans – even, perhaps, to repair their damaged brain in situ. This would be preferable to removing a duff brain and growing a new one, as happens when a planarian worm’s head is cut off.
“If we know what is happening when tissues are regenerated under normal circumstances, we can begin to formulate how to replace damaged and diseased organs, tissues and cells in an organised and safe way following an injury caused by trauma or disease. This would be desirable for treating Alzheimer’s disease, for example,” says Aboobaker.
All I know is that I’ll feel a lot better about the future if I know I’ll be able to regrow my brain if I mess it up somehow. So keep at it, scientists! And I’ll keep killing my brain with booze and drugs knowing that you’ve got my back. [The Register via Slashdot]