Scientists discover worm's regeneration ability

Scientists discover worm`s regeneration ability London: Scientists have unravelled the mechanism through which worms regenerate their amputated body parts -- a research that could lead to regrowing damaged human organs in future.

The University of Nottingham research into how Planarian worms can re-grow body parts -- including a whole head and brain -- found a gene called 'Smed-prep' which is essential for correctly regenerating body parts among the creatures. The research also shows that one day it will make it possible to regenerate old or damaged human organs and tissues, the Daily Mail reported.

"These amazing worms offer us the opportunity to observe tissue regeneration in a very simple animal that can regenerate itself to a remarkable extent and does so as a matter of course," said lead researcher Dr Aziz Aboobake, a Research Councils UK Fellow in the university's School of Biology.

"We want to be able to understand how adult stem cells can work collectively in any animal to form and replace damaged or missing organs and tissues.

"Any fundamental advances in understanding from other animals can become relevant to humans surprisingly quickly.

"If we know what is happening when tissues are regenerated under normal circumstances, we can begin to formulate how to replace damaged and diseased organs, tissues and cells in an organised and safe way following an injury caused by trauma or disease.

"This would be desirable for treating Alzheimer's disease, for example.

"With this knowledge we can also assess the consequences of what happens when stem cells go wrong during the normal processes of renewal -- for example in the blood cell system where rogue stem cells can result in Leukaemia."

According to the researchers, Smed-prep is necessary for the correct differentiation and location of cells that make up a Planarian worm's head, as well as for defining where the head should be located.

They found although the presence of Smed-prep is vital so the head and brain are in the right place, the worm stem cells can still be persuaded to form brain cells as a result of the action of other unrelated genes.

But even so, without Smed-prep these cells do not organise themselves to form a normal brain, the researchers said.

Daniel Felix, a graduate student who carried out the experimental work, added: "The understanding of the molecular basis for tissue remodelling and regeneration is of vital importance for regenerative medicine.

"Planarians are famous for their immense power of regeneration, being able to regenerate a new head after decapitation.

"With the homeobox gene Smed-prep, we have characterised the first gene necessary for correct anterior fate and patterning during regeneration.

"It has been a really exciting project and I feel very lucky to have had this study as the centre piece of my thesis work."

The findings of the study were published in the journal PLoS Genetics.