Healthy living

New treatment may help regrow damaged muscles

New treatment could help regrow damaged muscles Works even after injury has healed

A new treatment using sodium ions has been found to trigger the growth of nerves and muscles in damaged tissue.

Significantly, the treatment can be administered even after the injury has healed, and could even be adapted for use directly in combat situations as it does not require any complex medical procedures.

In the breakthrough study scientists induced the complete regrowth of missing tails in young tadpoles by applying a drug cocktail that introduces sodium ions into the damaged tissue.

The tadpole tails are complex organs containing spinal cord, muscle and other tissues. In fact in nature only very young tadpoles are able to re-grow a missing tail, an ability they lose as they age. This is similar to humans in that young children have the ability to generate missing fingertips but older children and adults do not.

The manner in which tadpoles regenerate missing tissue is also similar to the way in which humans do so, with each type of cell making more of itself, which makes these results particularly interesting.

Possible uses:

The findings have tremendous implications for treating wounds sustained in war as well as accidental injuries. The treatment method used is most directly applicable to spinal cord repair and limb loss, which are highly significant medical problems world-wide. It also demonstrates a proof-of-principle that may be applicable to many complex organs and tissues.

Commenting on the results, study leader Michael Levin said: "We have significantly extended the effective treatment window, demonstrating that even after scar-like wound covering begins to form, control of physiological signals can still induce regeneration. Artificially causing an influx of sodium for just one hour can overcome a variety of problems, such as the decline in regenerative ability that comes with age and the effect of regeneration-blocking drugs."

The process resulted in the re-growth of healthy tails, and did not stimulate any abnormal growths. The researchers were also able to stimulate the tail growth up to 18 hours after amputation, which shows that cells which have normally lost the ability to re-generate can still be stimulated to do so.

The study is reported in the Journal of Neuroscience and was carried out at Tufts University.

This article was published on Wed 29 September 2010

Image © Ai-Sun Tseng and Michael Levin-Tufts University

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