My, what, uh, nice hair you have…
Among the mutant lab mice that scientists have dreamed up, there’s a particularly funny-looking nude mouse. Now scientists have managed to make it look even more ridiculous by adding just one small tuft of black hair on its back.
Getting the hair follicles to sprout was no small feat of bioengineering. As reported in a new paper in Nature Communications, researchers took stem cells from bald mice as well as men and implanted them in the skin of the nude mice. A plastic sheath guided the growing hair through layers of the skin, and voila. The individual hairs could also stand up on their ends—just like how your body hair stands up when you’re cold–which means the bioengineered follicles even connected to the small muscle that control piloerection.
And if you ever wanted to a naked, red-eyed mouse with one tuft of black hair to stare straight into your soul, do not miss the video below.
Hospitals may start packing heat in the near future, but patients–especially burn victims–will be rejoicing. The “skin gun” fires stem cells instead of bullets, and it can heal second-degree burns faster than we’ve ever done it before.
Usually, skin grafting is an arduous process: It takes weeks to grow a fragile patch of skin over a wound. But with the skin gun, the grafting process takes 90 minutes and patients heal up within four days. And in the world of skin grafting, that speedy timeline is precious because it means that infections have less of a chance of setting in and killing patients.
For the tiny flatworm, regeneration of missing body parts is a piece of cake. Someone chopped its head off? No problem! It grows a brand new one in about seven days, complete with a spanking new brain with all the right circuits and connections. (As for the chopped-off head, it just grows a new body.)
This amazing ability of the flatworm to regrow a missing head and to produce a brain on demand has now been traced back to a key gene, researchers report in a PloS Genetics study. The identification of the gene is exciting news for scientists who wonder if humans, too, can one day learn to regenerate missing body parts.
The Register reports that the discovery of the “smed-prep” gene unlocks the mechanisms by which the hard-to-kill Planarian flatworms grow new muscle, gut, and brain cells:
Even more importantly, it seems that the information contained in smed-prep also makes the new cells appear in the right place and organize themselves into working structures – as opposed to nonfunctional blobs of protoplasm.
Lead researcher Aziz Aboobaker describes the worm’s regenerative superpowers to the BBC:
The standard inkjet printer found in offices around the world is the inspiration for a new medical device that can help patients with severe burns. Researchers at Wake Forest University rigged up a device that can spray skin cells directly onto a burn victim’s wounds, and animal trials showed that the treatment healed wounds quickly and safely. The team says this printing method could be an improvement over traditional skin grafts, which often leave serious scars.
The researchers explain that the device is mounted in a frame that can be wheeled over a patient in a hospital bed. A laser then takes a reading of the wound’s size and shape so that a layer of healing cells can be precisely applied, Reuters reports.
“We literally print the cells directly onto the wound,” said student Kyle Binder, who helped design the device. “We can put specific cells where they need to go.”
In the trials, this treatment completely closed wounds in just two weeks. The “bioprinting” device has so far only been tested on mice, but the team will soon try out the technique on pigs, whose skin is similar to that of humans. Eventually, the team expects to request FDA approval for human trials.
If harvesting cells from your placenta makes you queasy, and it’s too late to access some umbilical cord blood, there’s yet another medical waste product that may provide a new, uncontroversial source of stem cells: menstrual blood.
Dr. Amit Patel from the University of Pittsburgh found that the uterine lining, which is shed during menstruation, contains millions of stem cells. These cells are multipotent (can give rise to several different cell types) and have the capacity for self-renewal—two essential properties of stem cells. The study showed that menstrual stem cells (MenSCs) could differentiate into cells that give rise to fat, cartilage, bone, skin, muscle, heart, and brain cells (though it’s important to note that the MenSC’s did not actually differentiate into these cells—only into their predecessors). The cells actually showed greater potential capacity than bone marrow mesenchymal stem cells, as they had some of the same properties as human embryonic stem cells.
The original seven deadly sins laid out by the Catholic Church—pride, envy, gluttony, greed, lust, wrath, and sloth—are the classics of immorality, the same basic flaws humans have evinced since coming out of the trees (and, perhaps, even before). But in our booming, globalized, highly networked world, there are some new and very harmful errors at our disposal. And while the Vatican doesn’t have a Facebook page yet (unlike Discover), they do recognize that modern times call for modern vices.
In an interview headlined “New Forms of Social Sin,” Gianfranco Girotti, head of the Vatican’s Apostolic Penitentiary, insisted that “new sins have appeared on the horizon of humanity as a corollary of the unstoppable process of globalization.” The list of “mortal sins,” as they have now been classified, came at the end of a week-long seminar in Rome that intended to deal with the dismal turnout at recent confessions. Seems logical: If a wider range of souls are in danger of eternal damnation, more will seek absolution. So, what are the new ways to fall from grace?
Girotti devotes some space to a familiar type of don’t-treat-your-brother-poorly admonitions—like social injustice that causes poverty or “the excessive accumulation of wealth by a few”—but many of the new rules concern modern science, stuff that the sixth-century pope Gregory the Great never dreamed of.