First Successful Organ Regeneration in a Living Animal

By Carl Engelking | April 9, 2014 2:24 pm

lab mouse

Scientists discovered a way to reverse the process of aging — and no, they didn’t invent another skin cream. Instead, a team of scientists from the University of Edinburgh has, for the first time, succeeded in regenerating a living organ in an animal.

The team manipulated a single protein in very old mice that caused their bodies to rebuild their thymuses — an organ that produces white blood cells. After receiving the treatment, the senior citizen mice not only had thymuses that were similar in structure to a young whippersnapper’s, but they were also twice as large.

Scientists have in the past grown organs using stem cells, but this is the first time a living organism has repaired its own organs via a chemical trigger. The thymus is typically the first organ that shrinks and deteriorates as we age, so researchers are hoping this finding leads to treatments to bolster the immune systems of elderly people.

Flipping Biological Switches

Researchers targeted a single protein in the thymus, called FOXN1, that serves as a transcription factor — a master switch for lots of other genes. They increased the level of this protein, which in turn instructed immature cells in the thymus to start differentiating. The thymuses in treated mice started growing and producing more white blood cells. The team published their findings this month in the journal Development.

Here’s the catch: The mice were genetically modified, which enabled their bodies to increase levels of the protein in response to a drug administered by researchers. Therefore, the experiment simply demonstrates that regeneration is possible. Researchers will still need time to figure out how this protein trigger could work safely in humans.

 

Photo credit: Vasiliy Koval/Shutterstock

 

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, top posts
MORE ABOUT: genes & health
  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com Christophe Swiderski

    Wow!

  • Robert

    I would just like to note that the thymus does not make white blood cells, but is the location where T-lymphocytes (t-cells) are “educated” and become mature.

  • Henry Brown

    Space exploration may benefit. All mice on the International Space Station get colon cancer. Univ. of Az thymus microarray showed that rapidly aging thymus was the cause. Mice on ISS should be treated with tamoxifen to see if their thymus can recover?

    • KatjaKat

      Then they would only be able to use this strain of mouse, and that would probably mess up other types of results. Nice idea though. Maybe they’ll get around it somehow.

      • Edward Smith

        Considering that there isn’t likely a supply of tamoxifen in orbit they might just as well send up the drug with a proper study group of lab mice in addition to those already there.
        If they use the same mouse strain it would be like having a second control group.

  • KatjaKat

    Cool! Nicely written too, especially specifying that this is about figuring out processes and it’s nowhere near being a treatment.

  • Don’t Even Try It!

    “…twice as large”…Does that include ALL parts of their animate? If so, count me in!

  • reddy

    i have an idea about cactus.if environmental conditions around cactus plant is changed gradually the morphological adaptations would be reversed and we could determine true morphological charecters.post your comments to nuthanreddy.vayyeti@gmail.com

  • Paul j Brennin

    There’s nothing wrong with living a long healthy life. We shouldn’t start messing with God. Where only going to live as long as he want us to live. That’s only if you believe in Gods creation… God Bless all. I would love a long healthier life as well…..this is just a comment…

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