Scientists Recover Frogs’ Lost Legs Will Human Limbs Be Next?

February 2, 2022 — Can missing human limbs regrow? That’s a possibility scientists are now considering after regenerating frog legs for the first time.

Scientists say they have been able to help frogs regenerate limbs using a combination of five drugs. While other animals — including salamanders, starfish, zebrafish, lizards, and crabs — can do it on their own, frogs can’t.

The successes of a team of researchers at Tufts and Harvard Universities in Boston raise hopes that one day human limbs or organs can regrow. The potential is enormous, the researchers report in Science Advances.

Over the next 30 years, in the United States alone, more than 3.6 million people per year will lose limbs from diabetes, military combat, trauma and peripheral artery disease. Prostheses provide only limited assistance with mobility.

While much scientific progress has been made in this area, scientists have failed to repair or reverse tissue loss.

The researchers combined five drugs to help adult frogs grow their hind legs. The drugs were put in gel in a portable dome called a BioDome. The dome was sealed over the frog’s stump for 24 hours after amputation. The new limb growth occurred over the next 18 months.

The scientists said in a press release that they used the five-drug method after their previous work with a single drug, progesterone, with the BioDome. In the single-drug method, the limb grew as a spike and did not function as the limb in the current study.

Each of the five drugs had a different role, including alleviating inflammation, stopping collagen production to prevent scarring, and stimulating the growth of nerve fibers, blood vessels and muscles.

The new limbs had an elongated bone structure with features similar to the bone structure of a natural limb, a richer complement of internal tissues (including neurons), and several ‘toes’ grew from the tip of the limb, although without the support of underlying bone,” they reported.

Nirosha Murugan, PhD, a research affiliate at the Allen Discovery Center in Tufts and lead author of the paper, says the completeness of the regrown limb was exciting.

“The fact that only a short exposure to the drugs was needed to initiate a months-long regeneration process suggests that frogs and perhaps other animals have dormant regenerative abilities that can be put into action,” she says.

By activating the pathways, the limb can take on the process of tissue growth and organization, similar to the way it does in an embryo, rather than continuous therapy over the months it takes for the limb to grow. say the scientists.

After regrowth in many of the frogs, the new limbs were able to respond to touch and were ready for use in swimming and movement.

So what’s the next step for the investigation?

“We will test how this treatment might apply to mammals,” said author Michael Levin, PhD, a professor of biology in the Tufts School of Arts & Sciences and director of the Tufts Allen Discovery Center.

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