A team of scientists from various Chinese research centers have grown deer antlers on the heads of mice. It may seem like an attempt to create an animal Frankenstein; but, in reality, what they have done has interesting applications in regenerative medicine.
In this area of science it is common gaze into nature, to take ideas from animals that have a great capacity for regeneration. These are usually amphibians, like the axolotl or salamander, or even more basic animals, like the starfish. All very far from the human being. But yes there is mammals that maintain the regenerative capacity. It is about the deer, which every season lose their antlers, so that they can grow again just as big and strong.
For this reason, these scientists analyzed the stem cells that are activated at each moment of the antler loss and regeneration and then implanted them in the heads of the mice, so that copied that ability. And they got it. Small antlers emerged from the rodents’ heads, opening the doors to a new line of research in regenerative medicine.
The genes that do not let the deer lose its antlers
For the realization of this studyits authors isolated several cells from the sika deer antlerstypical of the Far East.
Once the cells were isolated, they analyzed which were the genes involved in regeneration and, in addition, they observed which stem cells increased their activity in the days before and after the loss of the antlers.
We must remember that the mother cells are those that have the ability to differentiate into any type of cells. That is, they are cells similar to embryonic cells, which have not yet transformed into a specific cell type. They are widely studied in regenerative medicine, because they are precisely what allow a lost organ or bone to grow again. That is why the case of deer is so interesting.
The authors of this study saw that there was a type of stem cell that was very active just 10 days before the antlers came off. However, 5 days later detachment, it was another type of stem cell that remained more active. Each played its role, so both were grown in the lab and implanted in the heads of mice. What happened next can be very useful for future regenerative medicine treatments.
This is how this experiment can help regenerative medicine
Forty-five days after the deer stem cells were implanted, tiny antlers could already be seen on the mice’s heads. This is because the stem cells had differentiated into osteochondral tissuewhich is precisely the one that intervenes in the repair of the bone fractures.
That is why this experiment is so interesting. It could also be useful for repair human bones in regenerative medicine. Although we cannot forget that ethically there would be many obstacles, since it is about introduce cells of one species into another.
To get around this drawback, the study authors plan to look in humans for genes analogous to those associated with deer stem cells. Perhaps other mammals have the same ability, but are not exploiting it. You just have to look for it. At the moment, there is still a long way to go before this technology can be applied in humans. But at least we now know that it is possible. And all thanks to mice with little deer antlers. It seems taken from a B-movie, but it is the pure reality, which sometimes surpasses fiction.