Could we regrow a limb after amputation?

Salamanders give us important clues about what we should be testing. What we learn from them keeps us on the right path.

Animals that are master regenerators, like salamanders, don’t scar. If they get cut they just heal, and you can’t tell where the cut happened. One reason adult humans can’t do this is because our healing process favors speed – we form scars so we can extinguish the problem quickly. This ability might have evolved in mammals at a cost: losing the regenerative prowess that ancient animals might have shared.

Scarring has long been seen as a process that prevents true tissue regeneration. But we have only recently had the tools to test that theory. The reference axolotl genome, for example, allows us to see what happens in detail: which cells are activated following amputation, how they counteract scarring, and what they do to promote a pro-regenerative environment.

Once we have some answers, we can start to explore the balance between scarring and regeneration in more detail.

We can also see exactly what happens to the cells that are activated, and ask questions like:

  • How long can these stem cells last?
  • How many times can the animal call them up to repair the tissue?

Once we have some answers, we can start to explore the balance between scarring and regeneration in more detail. That’s important for regrowing any damaged tissue: heart, spinal cord, or even limbs.

How we are funded

Our research is made possible by funding from Harvard University, the Smith Family Foundation, March of Dimes, the National Institutes of Health (NICHD, NIAMS), and the Paul G. Allen Frontiers Group.

Read more about our research

Join the Whited Lab

We welcome new collaborations, and inquiries about opportunities to work in our lab.

We Are Hiring!

A Fellow position is available in the Whited laboratory. The candidate will be part of a leading research laboratory in the fields of stem cell biology. Harvard is an equal opportunity employer and all qualified applicants will receive consideration for employment without regard to race, color, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, creed, national origin, ancestry, age, protected veteran status, disability, genetic information, military service, pregnancy and pregnancy-related conditions, or other protected status.
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