I’m sure we’re all familiar with the amazing regenerative abilities salamanders possess. Many of us have heard the age old stories of how a salamander will regrow its limbs or tail if they are cut off. But what about a heart? Is it even possible to regenerate internal organs? Well, based on a recent discovery, it is.
Recently, a team of researchers under the direction of Stanley Sessions from Hartwich College discovered that they were able to surgically remove up to half of a salamander’s heart without the animals bleeding out. What was more astounding was that the part of the heart that was removed regenerated in only 6 weeks. The new heart had no abnormalities in comparison to the heart prior to surgery.
So what’s the science behind this? For one thing, a blood clot formed at the surgical site, preventing the salamander from bleeding out and allowing it to survive the procedure. It turns out that this clot is partially made up of stem cells. These stem cells are what led to the regeneration of the missing part of the heart. Because stem cells have unlimited potential for growth and differentiation into specialized cells, it came as no surprise when it was discovered that they were the key to the salamander’s amazing regenerative ability.
Now you’re probably wondering, why don’t human hearts regenerate? Even though our hearts also possess the same stem cells found in salamander hearts, we don’t have the means of stimulating these stem cells to begin proliferating. This is why in humans when heart tissue is damaged, it is impossible for the heart to heal itself back to its former state. Because of this, the team of researchers is now focusing on finding the genes that lead to stem cell growth in salamanders. By understanding and identifying pathways similar in humans and salamanders, researchers hope that they will one day be able to induce stem cell growth for those who have had heart damage whether from an injury or from a heart attack.
Understanding the mechanisms behind stem cell growth in the heart of salamanders may one day hold the key to new, novel heart treatments for humans. Up until now, there have been no real medical treatments for patients who suffered damage to their hearts. With this research, we may unlock the secrets to stem cell proliferation which may even lead to heart regeneration in humans.