A recent study led by Duke Health revealed that humans possess the ability to regenerate cartilage similar to that of salamanders. Although reforming an entire arm isn’t quite within our potential just yet, the study says that, “cartilage in human joints can repair itself through a process similar to that used by creatures such as salamanders and zebrafish to regenerate limbs”.
Working with such discoveries may result in the creation of new treatment options for certain types of injuries, and diseases like osteoarthritis, and possibly even the regeneration of entire human appendages someday.
Certain reptiles and amphibians such as axolotls that are born with a capacity to regenerate limbs have a kind of molecule known as microRNA, which assists with managing joint tissue restoration. Humans also have such a molecule, although our cartilage regenerative abilities are more dominant in particular areas of the body.
Human microRNA molecules are more effectual in our ankles and less so in our knees and hips. Cartilage age (referring to whether or not proteins have gone through amino acid conversions or their structure has been altered) is proportionate to its place in the body. Ankles have younger cartilage, whereas hips tend to have older cartilage, explaining why wounded ankles recover so much faster than damaged knees or hips. This corresponds with animal limb regeneration occurring the quickest at the extremities of their bodies, such as the tails and ends of their legs.
“We were excited to learn that the regulators of regeneration in the salamander limb appear to also be the controllers of joint tissue repair in the human limb,” said Duke Professor Ming-Feng Hsueh. “We call it our ‘inner salamander’ capacity.”
Combining the missing attributes with microRNA
After finding out which regulators salamanders possess that are absent in humans, attempts can be made to introduce those elements and combine them with microRNA to establish the right molecular mix to regenerate appendages.
“We believe that an understanding of this ‘salamander-like’ regenerative capacity in humans, and the critically missing components of this regulatory circuit, could provide the foundation for new approaches to repair joint tissues and possibly whole human limbs,” says Duke Professor Virginia Byers Kraus.