Forward Movement on Spinal Column Regeneration
Elizabeth Hofheinz, M.P.H., M.Ed. • Mon, May 23rd, 2016
While it’s a far leap from a lizard regrowing a tail to a human regrowing a spinal column, ever so small steps are still advances. Researchers at the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) and Arizona State University (ASU) have identified tiny RNA switches, known as microRNAs, which may hold the keys to regenerating muscles, cartilage and spinal columns.
According to the May 5, 2016 news release, “In a study published today in the scientific journal BMC Genomics, ASU and TGen scientists for the first time identified three microRNAs—which turn genes on and off—that are associated with the regeneration of tails in the green anole lizard, Anolis carolinensis.”
"Since microRNAs are able to control a large number of genes at the same time, like an orchestra conductor leading the musicians, we hypothesized that they had to play a role in regeneration, " said senior author Kenro Kusumi, Ph.D., a professor in ASU's School of Life Sciences and associate dean in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and an adjunct faculty member at TGen. "Our earlier work found that hundreds of genes are involved in regeneration, and we are very excited to study these three new microRNAs."
Elizabeth Hutchins, Ph.D. a post-doctoral fellow in TGen's Neurogenomics Division, and co-lead author of the study, said she hopes this investigation “eventually enables such things as regenerating cartilage in knees, repairing spinal cords in accident victims, and reproducing the muscles of injured war veterans.”
"It is the translational nature of this work—how it could eventually be applied to people—that led to my interest in this study, " said Dr. Hutchins, who graduated from ASU's Molecular and Cellular Biology Program. "For example, we currently don't have the ability to regrow knee cartilage, which would really help someone like my grandmother."
Dr. Kusumi told OTW, “Right now, the ability of humans to regrow body parts is just science fiction seen only in the movies, but many vertebrate animals are capable of amazing levels of regeneration today. We are gradually uncovering the genetic programming that allows animals to regrow tissues, towards translating this into developing orthopedic regenerative treatments by the end of the 21th century.”