The thing that catches my attention every time I watch cartoons, especially the old ones like Tom and Jerry, is the way the characters get away with everything! For instance, Tom may freeze, crumble into pieces, get hammered to pulp, amputated, cut into two, turned into powder, or anything, yet he’s back in one piece again and again.
How I wish this unique ability/power or whatever you want to call it could be transferred to human beings. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if humans could recover completely after being involved in a severe accident or after being beaten up by a goon or someone? Or say, getting their eyes back by just fitting a pair into their eye sockets? Why didn’t God make us like Cartoons ? Why discriminate against humans? God has, after all, given similar powers to certain creatures like reptiles who can grow back their tails & limbs. It would have made life so much easier for us, I wonder….
But all people are not like me, they actually do some work! So, I guess it must have been some scientist who must have been as disgruntled and having the very same thoughts as I, who started to observe organisms which could grow back their limbs and other parts quite quickly. After some research, and simple observation, it was found that all living organisms can re-grow some part or parts of their body. For example, we humans too can re-grow back our skin and heal our broken bones over a period of time. Our liver too has this ability to regenerate itself, but we are quite slow.
However, most amphibians are pretty expert at this technique and can re-grow a lot of parts pretty quickly! Scientists have been researching on this for quite sometime and till recently, it was assumed that such growth in Amphibians was due to special cells called “Pluripotent cells”. These cells rapidly reach the point of amputation and there, under direction from the chemical signals, are told to differentiate into the required tissues. Humans too have Pluripotent cells, i.e., the human embryonic stem cells. Stem cells are very important and could help save innumerable human lives in the near future. Simply put, stem cells are blank cells which have the ability to change into every cell, tissue, and organ of the human body. They have no identity of their own, but they have the ability to change into any cell, tissue or organ. They are the cells from which the whole body is built and the good thing is that these are self renewable.
Now, you maybe wondering how on earth the scientists will be able to re-grow parts of the human body or to tackle various diseases with this technology. Well, you’ve got to the nerve of the problem if you came up with this question. Scientists know how to replicate stem cells in a laboratory, but do not know how to order it to differentiate into a specific kind of cell once it’s injected into the body, and also how to control its’ growth. These hindrances were what were keeping a check on my dream indestructible, of being like Tom & Jerry…
However, scientists have been studying the Salamander which is the ace when it comes to regenerating itself. (It can regenerate its’ limbs, damaged lungs, mend a damaged Spinal cord, and even re-grow parts of its brain!!!). Scientists were of the view that it was the action of the “Pluripotent cells” which was responsible for such rapid regeneration, but a recent research has revealed that this growth occurs not by the special Pluripotent cells, but more simple, tissue specific cells. This report has been published in one of the leading journals, the “Nature”.
USA and German scientists, who were conducting this research, realized that it was not the Pluripotent cells that were responsible for re-growth, but the regeneration was due to old cells which kept a record of their tissue origin. Example: It is the old muscle cells that make new muscle cells, and old skin cells which make new skin cells, and so on.
This discovery makes the amphibian process quite similar to the process of regeneration in Humans. This removes the complexities that scientists are facing with stem cells. However, a lot of work will have to be done to understand this action, and then to implement this process of making such changes in humans. But this revelation gives scientists more hope (check stem cell problems in para 5) of saving more lives and helping people get back an arm or leg they have lost. By the way, my hope of getting back to my original shape after being cut into pieces is still a distant dream I guess, but then I guess we didn’t create ourselves, like we did the cartoons, right?
[Image courtesy: http://www.usgcrp.gov/usgcrp/images/GoldenToads-CostaRica.jpg]