If you still have all of your original pieces, it is hard for you or anyone to imagine what it would be like to lose an arm or leg. We have seen it through all of man’s time on this planet whether losing it to a Wooly Mammoth or a modern day auto accident. Just as old as the experience of losing a personal member is the desire to regrow a limb. After all, we have seen the lizard regrow limbs since time immemorial. Why can’t we humans? After hope that only existed in science fiction, it is looking like a real possibility for tomorrow.
The secret lies in DNA. Recently, scientists at MDI Biological Laboratory in Bar Harbor, Maine, have discovered the common genetic regulators found in three vastly different species: the zebrafish, a Mexican salamander and a fish from Africa. The fact that the common markers were found in a group that diversified 420 million years ago tells us these are all products of evolution. If that is the case, then it is possible for any species to evolve the capability to regrow limbs.
Parts of the human body already generate well. We are all familiar with skin tissue growing back as we can see it happen on the outside. But, did you know that the human liver can regenerate itself almost as easily? During liver transplants, doctors remove only a small section of the healthy liver from the donor knowing it will grow back on its own. However, key parts of our bodies such as the heart or lungs do not easily regrow a missing piece if at all.
To re-grow a new limb, all starts with the body’s limb or organ growing a a group of cells called a “blastema”. This is considered a reservoir. Out of the reservoir grows the regenerated limb or organ. Our body’s inability to start a blastema is what holds us back from growing a new heart or lung. Once we solve the genetic code, it is very possible that we could help the human body regrow a heart, lung or limb blastema.
In addition to regrowing new limbs, this could also lend a helping hand to emergency rooms where victims suffering major wounds can heal faster. I doubt the patient would be able to snap their fingers and be better after a fifteen minute break but this could substantially speed up recovery processes allow the victim to not suffer as much pain or time in recovery.
Whenever a limb is severed, there is a genuine risk that the nerves may be damaged due to the injury. Damaged nerves cannot pass on the electronic signals to places like the brain or spinal column to generate feedback. If these nerves could be healed by regeneration, then a more sophisticated prosthetic could be used by the patient. One that could respond to those nerve endings sending signals to the artificial limb. This could give a patient a fully functioning limb to replace what was lost.
Humans regrowing a new limb is still a long ways off but advances are just around the corner. It is much more likely to see the faster wound healing or nerve damage repair soon.