Written by Emily Burns, who attended a lecture by Professor Martin Birchall (UCL Ear Institute) at the Cheltenham Science Festival, entitled ‘Regenerative Medicine: Where will we be in 50 years?’
Mouse heart showing position of coronary arteries.
What happens if a newt’s leg is cut off? Or a gecko’s tail auto-amputated?
The cells simply multiply to grow back into exactly what was missing. If a flatworm were cut in two, the two halves would both become new flatworms.
Unfortunately for humans, this incredible ability to self-regenerate was lost several branches ago on the evolutionary tree. As such, we definitely don’t have the ability to grow a new leg, or a new heart.
We have to rely on skin grafts and organ transplants, with common risks of rejection, infection and multiple complications. However, according to Professor Mark Birchall and Dr Felicity Mehendale, our regenerative future is just around the corner.