Scientists from the University of Nottingham have uncovered the gene that allows an amazing worm to regenerate its body parts after these have been amputated; and we’re talking about even its whole head and brain!
The discoveries made about the Planarian worm could be a huge step forward into one day seeing real results in regards to the regeneration of old or damaged human organs and tissues.
For the first time, this research, headed by Dr. Aziz Aboobaker, a research Councils UK Fellow, and published in the open access journal PLoS Genetics, shows that a gene called ‘Smed-prep’ is crucial for the correct regeneration of the head and brain of planarian worms.
These worms have an incredible ability to regenerate body parts. They contain adult stem cells that are incessantly splitting and are able to become all of the missing cell types; they have the correct set of genes at work to achieve this in the right way, so that when the body parts grow back, it happens in the right place and in the right size, shape, and orientation.
Dr. Abbobaker’s team has had the opportunity to see the tissue regeneration process in a very simple animal that is capable of regenerating itself to an amazing extent and that does it regularly. They want to understand how it is that adult stem cells can work together in any animal to form and replace damaged or missing organs and tissues, because any new understanding in animals can be very important, very fast, for humans.
If scientists understand what is going on when tissues are regenerated under normal circumstances, they can start working on how to replace damaged or sick organs, tissues, and cells in an organized and safe way after an injury has happened for any reason.
This kind of knowledge would be very helpful for treating Alzheimer’s, for example, and scientists would also be able to measure the consequences of what happens when stem cells go wrong during the normal renewal processes, like in the blood cell system, where rogue stem cells can cause Leukemia.
Smed-prep is vital to correctly differentiate and to locate the cells that compose the head of the planarian worm and to define where this organ is located in the worm.
The scientists have discovered that even though Smed-prep is crucial for the head and brain to be in the right place, the worm stem cells can nevertheless be persuaded to form brain cells due to the action of other unrelated genes. However, without Smed-prep, these cells are unable to organize themselves to form a normal brain.
The team knows that it is crucial to understand the molecular basis for tissue regeneration and remodeling in order to advance in regenerative medicine.
The planarians are famous for their incredible regenerative capabilities, and these scientists have been able to characterize the first gene, the Smed-prep, that is necessary for correct anterior fate and patterning during regeneration.
Contact your pharmaceutical consultant for guidance and more information in regards to tissue regeneration milestones.
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Nigel Smart is a pharmaceutical consultant and founder of the pharmaceutical consulting blog.