Wolverine-like healing from a special protein

By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer

Mice with Lin28a showed remarkable healing abilities.

In the X-Men series, the mutant Wolverine has the ability to heal wounds almost as quickly as he gets them. However, you don’t have to be a superhero to have this ability, because scientists managed to create mice who could do the same!

In order to conduct their experiment, researchers from the University of Michigan used mice that were genetically modified – had their DNA altered in a specific way. While all the creatures were engineered to grow tumors, only some were changed to produce a protein called Lin28a, which is often used by a mother’s body to produce babies.

Compared to the mice who were not given Lin28a, these furballs grew hair at a faster rate, healed quickly, and didn’t develop tumors.

“We were just so shocked that such a small change in this gene could have profound effects on a complex regenerating tissue,” says Hao Zhu, a cell biologist at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas and an author of the study.

However, not all of the body parts benefitted from the Lin28a protein. For example, the hearts of the mice didn’t show any extra healing ability, and once the rodents reached adulthood, their toes didn’t completely heal from damage.

What the protein did unlock, was still quite impressive. For example, the mice grew thick hair like crazy and speedily regenerated their cartilage – a flexible material found throughout the body in places like the nose and ears. “The fact that it doesn’t work sometimes is even more interesting because it raises the question why,” says Daniel Goldman at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, who has studied the role of the special protein.

Though Lin28a won’t be used in medicine anytime soon, in the future, it could be used to treat injured tissues… or perhaps even unlock the secrets of immortality.

Featured image courtesy of Elsevier Inc and Cell. Image of Wolverine courtesy of Marvel Comics.