Juggling With Chainsaws Soon to be Less Risky ?
Popular Science reported yesterday findings out of The Wistar Institute in Philadelphia (actually, they tagged the Guardian for the lead, but I got you a link to the press release, so suck it major news sources) wherein a team of scientists, lead by a Dr. Ellen Heber-Katz, have discovered the gene in Murphy Roths Large (MRL) mice that allows them to regenerate cells without scarring. Dr. Heber-Katz was the one to discover this ability in the mice back in 1996; she was conducting an auto-immunity experiment and had punctured the ears of the mice who had received the drug being researched – weeks later the piercing holes were gone. She and her team have been studying the phenomenon ever since and have published their findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences two days ago.
What Heber-Katz and her team discovered is that MRL mice lack a gene called “p21,” which is responsible for suppressing another gene, “p53,” which in most mammals regulates cell division and stops us from turning into horrendous walking cancer-people. Knowing this, Heber-Katz and her group suppressed p21 in non-regenerating mice and found that the modified rodent’s punctured ears formed blastema (a growth typically found in amphibians that regenerate their limbs) and left no signs of ever having been pierced.That’s right – we can rebuild them to rebuild themselves.
But what about the whole possibility of cancer thing? Heber-Katz and her team found that rather than attempting to heal the damaged cells, the genetically-altered mice had now been programmed for apoptosis, or cell suicide, which frankly makes a lot more sense when you can just regrow new cells, and is precisely what newts and the like do when they regrow their shit.This announcement, 14 years in the making, is much like penicillin and the microwave in that it was accidental yet will nevertheless probably change the world. This is undoubtedly the greatest discovery of Heber-Katz’s career, pictured below.
What does this discovery mean for humanity? Well, as the titles of this article state, people will probably be a lot more careless about dangerous pastimes once the treatment Heber-Katz is hoping for, accelerated healing by selectively turning p21 on and off in humans, hits the streets. On the plus side, people will be able to heal from some of the most debilitating and terminal conditions we today are afflicted with; on the negative side, Johnny Knoxville and his crew will probably lose their jobs – there’s no fun in watching idiots lose their limbs when there’s a good chance they can grow them back.
This does pose interesting questions though for people like Aimee Mullins, who has shaped one of the most outstanding careers I’ve ever read about (youngest person with Top-Secret Pentagon clearance, collegiate athlete, model, actress – all with no legs below the knee!): does she go through a procedure like this and grow new legs or stick to the prosthetic legs that have served her perfectly well since she was one-year-old? We’re still decades away from a development like that, but here’s the thing: when she was one, she had no choice but to have her legs removed. Once this procedure’s commonplace, a girl in the same position she was won’t have a choice but to have them regrown. Sometime in the future, getting your p21 turned on and off will be as routine as a Botox treatment.