Australian researchers have isolated an immune system cell in salamanders which helps it regenerate missing limbs and damaged organs — and they suspect the same thing could work in humans, too.
Salamanders, or axolotls, are unique among vertebrates in that they’ve got remarkable regenerative powers. Adults can literally regrow and restore function to any part of the body, including the spinal cord and heart — even parts of the brain. Moreover, the regenerated tissue is scar free; once repaired, the new tissue looks almost the same as it was before.
Mammals obviously can’t do this. When we suffer tissue damage, the growth response is severely limited, while also being subject to scarring.
Now, thanks to the work of James Godwin and colleagues at Monash University’s Australian Regenerative Medicine Institute, scientists are one step closer to figuring out how to transfer the salamander’s regenerative powers to humans.
A crucial part of the healing process involves the presence of macrophages — a major immune system cell type that patrols tissues and gobbles-up foreign invaders, like bacteria and fungi. What’s more, they also play an important role in determining the mode of repair and instigating the tissue regeneration process.