Limbs from the Lab

MouseBraunhut Lab

Click the pictures to find out more about regenerating limbs


The First Step to Regrow Arms and Legs

Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are surviving wounds that would have proved fatal in past conflicts. However, over 900 US troops have lost limbs and have had to adjust to life in a wheelchair or with prosthetics. But what if their limbs could be regrown? A once far fetched idea is taking shape in the lab as the Department of Defense pursues the futuristic goal of human regeneration.

In August, the military launched a 5 year, $250 million research project on human regeneration. Additionally, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is funding research of cellular and molecular systems that allow certain animals to regenerate lost tissue. Could humans regrow their limbs like salamanders do?

Coordinating the DARPA effort is Stephen Badylak, D.V.M., M.D., Ph.D., research professor of surgery at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and director of the Center for Pre-Clinical Tissue Engineering. The research team also includes:

• Dr. Susan Braunhut, a biologist who studies the regenerative potential of cells at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell

• Dr. Ellen Heber-Katz, an immunologist that studies 'super-healer' mice from The Wistar Institute

• Dr. Lorraine Gudas, a stem cell and retinoids expert from Cornell Medical School

• Two salamander researchers, Dr. Shannon Odelberg from the University of Utah and Dr. Hans-Georg Simon from Northwestern University

Sharing ideas and experimental information the team works together toward a major goal, human limb regeneration. "DARPA would like us to come up with some sort of topical treatment that you could give a wounded soldier on the battlefield or shortly after and get them healing along a regenerative pathway," Badylak said in The San Diego Union-Tribune on October 12, 2006.  

Badylak, who could not be reached for comment, is focused on applying the team’s research to humans. His research examines the regenerative properties of extracellular matrix, a mix of connected tissue and protein secreted by cells that helps stem cells grow and differentiate. His matrix powder has already been applied on a man’s amputated finger tip with positive results; the finger grew back flesh and vessels in four weeks and nail and fingerprint in four months. Working together the group hopes to be able to regrow entire functional limbs within the next 10 years.

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