Organ and limb regeneration

BAR HARBOR — James Godwin will give a talk about organ regeneration Jan. 14 at 5 p.m. in the Kinne Library at the MDI Biological Laboratory (MDIBL).

The talk, the first in the 2019 MDI Science Café series, is titled “Unlocking the Potential for Repair and Regeneration of Human Limbs, Hearts, Brains and Other Organs.”

“Though the ability to grow a new limb after injury or new heart muscle after a heart attack may seem like science fiction, regenerative biology may be closer than we think to achieving this goal,” event organizers said. “The key may lie with scarring, which appears to function as a barrier to regeneration in humans.”

Godwin, who studies regeneration in salamanders at MDIBL, will talk about how the potential for humans to achieve “salamander-like” regenerative capabilities could transform medicine. He will also discuss some key areas that are under investigation in regenerative biology and the path to the development of clinical therapies to promote scar-free regeneration and repair in humans.

“The salamander can faithfully repair damaged organs or replace a missing body part such as a limb, throughout its life,” Godwin said. “In contrast, humans and mice fail to replace damaged limbs or effectively heal other tissues without scarring, which reduces the ability of organs to function normally and can be fatal to organs such as the heart.”

By studying the advanced wound repair process in salamanders — in particular, a type of Mexican salamander called the axolotl that is nature’s champion of regeneration — Godwin has made significant progress toward understanding the potential barriers to human regeneration and how they may be overcome.

“The extraordinary incidence of death and disability from heart disease, for example, is directly attributable to scarring,” Godwin said. “If humans could get over the scarring hurdle in the same way that salamanders do, the system that blocks regeneration in humans could potentially be broken.”

In addition to regenerating heart tissue following a heart attack, the ability to unlock the dormant capabilities for regeneration in humans through the suppression of scarring has potential applications for the regeneration of tissues and organs lost to traumatic injury, surgery and other diseases, Godwin said.

His reflect the unique research approach at MDIBL, where scientists study regeneration in a diverse range of highly regenerative animal models with the goal of gaining insight into how to trigger dormant genetic pathways for regeneration in humans.

MDI Science Cafés are offered in fulfillment of the laboratory’s mission to promote scientific literacy and increase public engagement with science. The events offer a chance to hear directly from speakers about trends in science. Short presentations delivered in everyday language are followed by lively, informal discussion.

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