November 13, 2009
A New Zealand scientist says stem cells cloned from the base of deer antlers are providing clues to regenerate severed human limbs.
Deer antler is the only mammal organ that annually regenerates and AgResearch Invermay scientist Chunyi Li has isolated the cells that allow deer to re-grow new antlers.
No other mammal can naturally regenerate any lost organ but a 200kg red deer can produce as much as 30kg of antler in as little as three months.
Dr Li told The Otago Daily Times newspaper he has shown that previously unrecognised stem cells able to grow into specialised cell types – skin, nerves, blood vessels, fibrous tissue, cartilage and bone – control the process.
The stem cells are in the pedicles – bony protuberances on the skull which are triggered to grow each spring.
Understanding this process and how to replicate it in humans could take researchers close to an ultimate target of regenerating organs or limbs removed through trauma or surgery.
“We know, based on antler regeneration, that bone membrane cells are crucial. If we can turn on cells (in humans) that resemble pedicle membrane bone cells, you may be able to deflect scar formations towards a regeneration pathway,” he said.
Dr Li said his breakthrough came when he realised an estimated 3.3 million cells in a 2mm thick layer around the pedicle stimulated up to 20kg of antler growth in just 60 days.
“It made me ask if it was stem cells that created that growth.”
A spokesman for AgResearch said there was no continuing work related to developing the discovery for use in human medicine.
© 2009 NZPA
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