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Super Mice

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Genetically Engineered Mice Regenerate Body Parts


By James Donahue

October 2005


Here is a scientific mystery to ponder. Genetic scientists at Philadelphia’s Wistar Institute engineered and inbred a strain of mice designed to develop lupus. But they got a surprise.


The mice have turned out to be super mice. They have displayed a miraculous ability to regenerate body parts and regrow vital organs and the scientists who engineered them don’t yet know why.


The unique ability of these mice to regenerate body parts and heal wounds was accidentally discovered in 1998 by Ellen Heber-Katz, professor of molecular and cellular oncogenesis at Wistar.


She pierced holes in the animal’s ears to distinguish them from a control group during work with autoimmune diseases. She noticed that the puncture wounds healed quickly without scarring.


Heber-Katz and the others in her lab decided to experiment with the mice and see just how good they were at healing. When a tip of a tail was cut away, it grew back. The experimentation continued until they were severing the spinal cords, poking out eyes and cauterizing internal organs. Everything came back.


The team then discovered that when cells from the regenerative mice were injected into other mice, these “normal” mice adopted the ability to regenerate body parts. Also when the special mice bred with normal mice, the offspring inherited the regeneration capabilities.


The research team is working hard to find out what it is that is different about the genetic makeup of these amazing mice that gives them this power to regrow body parts. If they can find the key, they think it may be possible for humans to adopt similar abilities.


While some amphibians can regrow severed body parts, mammals do not do this. These genetically altered mice are the exception, however.


If and when the genetic key to parts regeneration and fast healing is found, the genetic scientists believe they will be on a track toward extending human life and perhaps making it possible for people to live forever.


It should not be surprising that other labs have joined in on the work.


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