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Soldiers wounded in combat will someday regrow their limbs -- if the Pentagon has its way.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has just given Massachusetts' Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) a $570,000, one-year contract to get a mammal, preferably a human, to regenerate a large body part such as a finger or even a limb.
That's Phase II of DARPA's "Restorative Injury Repair" project, which according to the DARPA Web page "will culminate in the restoration of a functional multi-tissue structure in a mammal."
WPI's CellThera for-profit unit has already achieved Phase I, which according to the school's press release "succeeded in reprogramming mouse and human skin cells to act more like stem cells, able to form the early structures needed to begin the process of re-growing lost tissues."
"The goal is to genuinely replace a muscle that's lost," WPI bioengineering researcher Raymond Page told Wired News. "I appreciate that's a very aggressive goal."
Some salamanders can regrow lost limbs, and some lizards lost tails. But humans can generally regrow only their livers, and have to have at least one-quarter of the previous one still intact for it to happen.
When a hobby-store owner in Cincinnati sliced off his fingertip in 2005 while showing a customer why the motor on his model plane was dangerous, he went to the emergency room without the missing tip.
Months later, he had regrown it, tissue, nerves, skin, fingernail and all.
Over the years, Dr. Atala's researchers have grown nearly two dozen different types of body parts, including muscle, bones and a working heart valve. "I think if we start combining things like better prevention, better care, doing things better for your body, and just with regenerative medicine, we may push [our life spans] up to 120, 130 years," Dr. Atala says.
Innovations in Regenerative Medicine