Young deer antlers were grown on the foreheads of lab mice to test the regenerative potential of certain stem cells that could be used in the future in regenerative medicine to repair bones and regrow amputated limbs. The result is published In Science by a Chinese research team led by Northwest Polytechnic University in Xi’an.
Intent on studying the regenerative mechanisms of mammals, the researchers focused on deer, which are able to regrow their antlers each year, which are made of living tissue with blood vessels and nerves wrapped around a rapidly growing bony structure. The key to their regrowth is a small mass of cells with a high regeneration capacity reminiscent of one (called a “blastem”) which in amphibians allows the regrowth of amputated limbs. Still in the class of mammals, there is also another animal that maintains a separate regeneration capacity: it is the mouse, which is able to regrow its front toes thanks to progenitor cells similar to those found in deer antlers. “This suggests that there are relatively conserved molecular and cellular mechanisms in the only two cases of appendix regeneration in mammals,” the study authors wrote.
These mechanisms were partially reconstructed by analyzing which genes were turned on in approximately 75,000 deer cells representing different antler developmental stages. To investigate the potential of these deer progenitor cells, the researchers transferred them into the skulls of hairless mice, and got them to grow tiny cartilaginous protrusions within 45 days: analyzes showed that these miniature antlers are produced entirely by cultured deer stem cells, proving the fact that the researchers had They isolated the essential cells for regeneration.
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