Can Rebuilding an Organ be Simple?

shutterstock_57341071-458x307Researchers in the lab of Dr. Blackburn at the University of Edinburgh in the UK have demonstrated that a living organism can be coerced to regenerate damaged tissues. Using a mouse model, the researchers observed elderly mice with damaged thymus, an organ responsible for the production of immune system related signals and cells. A mouse with a damaged thymus will have a reduced immune system, and therefore will have a shorter life.

The scientists have isolated a specific cell signal, a protein called FOXN1, that has the ability to tell the body when to turn on or off specific gene expression. That is, it has the ability to tell the mouse’s body to “restart” thymus development, something that normally ends along normal growth. By increasing the amount of this signal in the mice population, the researchers discovered the recruitment of stem-cell like cells that began to rebuild the damaged thymus in the aging mice.

When the scientists compared the regrown thymus function to that of a healthy adolescent mouse, they found little to no difference, indicating a successful and function regeneration of the thymus in the old mouse population.

Such a discovery is likely to make waves in the medical and scientific communities. Being able to regenerate tissues such as heart tissues could revert the damage incurred during a heart attack. Furthermore, damage to nerves caused by diseases such as ALS or Huntington’s could potentially be prevented or mitigated, ending or reducing the suffering of countless human beings.



N. Bredenkamp, C. S. Nowell, C. C. Blackburn. Regeneration of the aged thymus by a single transcription factor. Development, 2014; 141 (8): 1627 DOI: 10.1242/dev.103614

About Eric