Sodium may be the key to regrowth of nerves of tissue for people with spinal cord injuries, severed limbs and other catastrophic injuries, according to a study published Wednesday in the Journal of Neuroscience.
Biologists at Tufts University conducted the study with tadpoles who had lost the ability to regenerate their tails. Tadpole tails contain spinal cord, muscle and other tissue.
The researchers infused the tadpoles with a combination of drugs that prompted a flood of sodium ions into the injured nerve cells. Within an hour, the tadpoles began growing new tails.
Lead researcher Michael Levin, who is director of the Center for Regenerative and Developmental Biology at Tufts, told MSNBC that a tadpole/frog tail is a good model for human regeneration because it repairs injury in the same way: Each tissue makes more of itself.
“We certainly feel this will be relevant for human medicine,” Levin said. “The name of the game is to control the ionic content of the wound, which is able to kick-start the whole process of regeneration. You can initiate the whole cascade of repair.”
In addition to regenerating spinal nerve tissue, Levin said, this type of biomedicine could one day be used to regrow lost fingers, toes or limbs by immersing the injured area in specific fluids and bioelectronics.
Levin noted that this type of regrowth method could be simpler and more effective than others, such as using stem cells.
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