A Mexican salamander, known as the axolotl, could play an important role in helping paralysed people walk again. This is according to new research from a university in America.
The axolotl, also called the Mexican Walking Fish, has the ability to grow back lost limbs. Not only that, it can also regenerate its spinal cord if damaged. The unique ‘talent’ caught the attention of scientists at the University of Minnesota, who decided to carry out further research into the feat. What they found makes for interesting reading.
The scientists involved discovered how the salamander achieves the regeneration and, more importantly, how a human may be able to replicate it.
In the case of the axolotl, a spinal injury causes the glial cells, which sit near to the spinal cord, to reposition themselves, allowing the repair of the damaged connections between nerves. When a human suffers a spinal injury, these same glial cells produce scar tissue, which prevents the nerves from reconnecting and compromises the pathway that carries signals to and from the brain.
The research team found what caused this to happen in humans: a family of proteins called Juns. These prevented a protein called c-Fos from working. The latter, common to both the salamander and humans, is what caused the regenerative process to occur.
Now, the team responsible for the study are looking into creating a drug that will stop the Jun proteins from creating scar tissue, allowing the c-Fos protein to work in humans.
The lead researcher at the University of Minnesota, Dr Karen Echeverri, said: “Humans have very limited capacity for regeneration, while other species like salamanders have the remarkable ability to functionally regenerate.
“We have discovered that despite this difference in response to injury, these animals share many of the same genes with humans. This knowledge could be used to design new therapeutic targets for treating spinal cord injury or other neurodegenerative diseases.”
She concluded: “In addition to spinal cord regeneration, our work [will] also focus on other forms of regeneration including scar-free wound healing and limb regeneration.”