Did you watch The Amazing Spider-Man last year? The superhero reboot from 500 Days of Summer director Marc Webb featured a new Spider-Man and one of his fiendish foes, The Lizard. The character of Dr. Connors was Peter Parker’s good friend, who was working on an experiment to introduce the DNA of a lizard into his body so he could re-generate his amputated arm. Unfortunately, this tragic event turned him into the Lizard, and there was much running amok. Well, it appears Australian researchers are performing real-life experiments with the immune system cell in salamanders to regenerate missing limbs and damaged organs in humans.
Salamanders have the unique ability to regenerate almost any part of their body — including their spinal cords, hearts, and parts of their brains — that have been damaged or severed. Of course, mammals don’t have anywhere near the same ability, as our growth response is severely limited. James Godwin and his team at Monash University’s Australian Regenerative Medicine Institute are trying to bridge the gap between salamanders and mammals by trying to transfer the former’s unique ability to humans.
According to Godwin, the main ingredient to make this a reality is macrophages, an immune system cell type that patrols tissues and kills anything foreign that enters the cells, such as bacteria or fungi. Macrophages are the sole element that helps salamanders re-generate and repair broken tissue, organs, or limbs. Godwin figured out this formula when his team took away macrophages from the salamanders. This led to the salamanders not having the re-generative ability, leaving them stumps and scarred tissue when their bodies broke down. Once Godwin re-introduced the chemical, the salamanders were once again able to re-grow their missing parts. Godwin explains:
‘Previously, we thought that macrophages were negative for regeneration, and this research shows that that’s not the case — if the macrophages are not present in the early phases of healing, regeneration does not occur,’ he said in a press statement. ‘Now, we need to find out exactly how these macrophages are contributing to regeneration. Down the road, this could lead to therapies that tweak the human immune system down a more regenerative pathway.’
The next stage in Godwin’s research is to breakdown the macrophages to figure out their chemical makeup and what derives their healing power. Assuming they can figure that out, Godwin plans to use his research to advance the treatment of spinal cord and brain injuries. Let’s just hope James Godwin doesn’t use himself as a test subject.