Gene Identified That Helps Old Tissue Heal Like New in Mice

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Wouldn’t it be nice to keep young tissues’ ability to repair wounds and bound back after injury?

Now, scientists think they have identified the factor that could make that possible — a protein called Lin28a. It’s normally active in embryos, when new cells and tissues are busy dividing and forming new organs, but tends to shut down over time. In a study involving mice published in the journal Cell, researchers led by a group from Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School reactivated the Lin28a protein in adult mice, and found that when the protein enhanced hair growth in areas were they were shaved, and even seeded new tissue on damaged ears, fingers and toes.

How does Lin28a help these older tissues act young again? The protein was able to essentially recreate the molecular environment of the embryo, by increasing production of enzymes that boost metabolic processes common during the earliest stages of life.

While the study involved only mouse cells, the researchers believe it’s possible that the same process could occur in people with the right stimulation. These findings could then lead to new ways of repairing injured tissues or reversing damage responsible for degenerative diseases, as well as provide insights into how to slow or reverse cellular aging.