Last updated at 4:15 PM on 6th December 2010
Amputees could regenerate limbs and organs thanks to scientists who have come close to discovering how salamanders grow back lost legs and damaged organs.
Axolotl salamanders are now going under the knife - while anaesthetised - in experiments at the Hanover Medical School in Germany.
The hope is one day for their genes to be transplanted to people who lose limbs and organs only to see them re-grow.
The axolotl salamander is able to regrow its limbs and even damaged organs. But it loses its ability to regenerate as it grows older
'Coagulation sets in instantly,' scientist Björn Menger told Germany‘s Spiegel magazine this week. 'You can almost watch the healing process happening.'
They can even grow back sections of their brains and spinal columns, raising hopes that disabled people might one day be able to walk if such feats can be copied.
Ambystoma mexicanum is almost extinct in Mexico due to diminishing habitats and human hunting - they are regarded as a delicacy in much the way the French like frogs legs.
Scientists experimenting on a batch of them in Hanover notice that after a limb has been amputated a layer of skin cells forms from the cells at the spot of the incision.
Scar tissue forms underneath and new tissue begin to grow, such as blood vessels, muscles, sinews, bones and nerves. The researchers are homing in on a particular enzyme called amblox which makes the axolotl unique in the animal kingdom.
The grail is to create amblox artificially. Initial tests on human skin cells have been encouraging; wounds do heal faster, skin grows back at an accelerated pace. But a breakthrough in terms of regenerating limbs and organs is a long way off.
All animals can regenerate to some degree. A human fingertip can sometimes grow back and cuts often heal with minimal scarring.
In salamanders, the blood vessels contract quickly and limit bleeding when a limb is cut. Skin cells quickly cover the wound and form what is called a blastema.
Researchers thought these cells must be pluripotent stem cells -- the body's master cells, which retain the ability to start growing into any kind of cell in the body.
These cells are found in days-old embryos, but quickly differentiate -- becoming the various cell types from muscle to nerve to skin or blood.
The Hanover research centre also acts to save the axolotl as a species.
After experimentation on an individual, it is allowed to live out its life in peace - with its new limbs back in place.
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