Miracle Mice

Lately, we've seen a lot of progress in anti-aging science--from the relentless activism of Aubrey de Grey in search of the "Methuselah factor," to the prospect of nano-robots being someday able to repair faulty cells from within. But the recent breakthrough by biomedical researchers of the Wistar Institute in Philadelphia has left us stunned.

In August, Ellen Heber-Katz, professor of immunology at Wistar, announced that she and her team had accidentally created a "miracle mouse" that "can regenerate amputated limbs or badly damaged organs, making it able to recover from injuries that would kill or permanently disable normal animals," reported the British Sunday Times.

According to Dr. Heber-Katz, this ability held true for all kinds of body parts such as heart, optic nerve, toes, joints, and tail. The only organ that didn't grow back was the brain.

The mice' incredible self-healing capacities were first noted by Dr. Heber-Katz when she realized that tagging holes in their ears had healed without leaving any scars. She then subjected the mice to a series of surgical tests--with the above-mentioned results.

"We have found that the MRL mouse [named after the strain it's from] seems to have a higher rate of cell division. Its cells live and die faster and get replaced faster. That seems to be linked to the ability to regenerate."

Even more astonishing: When other mice were injected with fetal liver cells of the test mice, they, too, developed "miraculous" regenerative powers.

It is well-known that many less evolved creatures like fish and amphibians can re-grow lost limbs--but mammals are far too complex and their cells far too specialized to self-repair like that. Positioned at the top of the evolutionary chain, humans can only regenerate their skin, blood and liver (if there's at least a quarter of intact tissue left).

However, the Wistar researchers hope that the new breed of mice might be the beginning of something big. And they may be right. It's too early to say something definitive, but it seems the regenerative function of the "miracle mice" is controlled by not more than a dozen genes--and it is almost certain, say the scientists, that humans have similar genes.

It looks like evolution might be a work still in progress...

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Posted 10-25-2005 12:28 AM by Doug Casey