April 10, 2014
I love comic books, although I have not read any for what is likely years now. Even still, I adore comic book inspired movies, television shows, tabletop games, and more. In short, I love almost everything involving super heroes and, like many fans, one of my all-time favorite characters is the X-Man known as Wolverine. Even if you are not a fan of comics, you have likely heard of this guy. He has been in three X-Men movies, has had two movies of his own, has a cameo in X-Men: First Class, and is set to feature very prominently in the upcoming X-Men: Days of Future Past. This character is incredible, with unbreakable metal claws and skeleton, animal-like senses, a rough-and-tumble personality, and the ability to regenerate from (almost) any wound. For many years now, researchers have been working on a way of mimicking that talent of his and at long last, they have succeeded.
A team of scientists and researchers from the University of Edinburgh have recently succeeded in regenerating the thymus, which is an organ found next to the heart that produces important immune cells, in older lab mice. This is the first time in history that scientists have successfully regenerated a living organ. This was done by reactivating a natural bodily mechanism that shuts down with age, which then regenerated the thymus in these older mice. After going through the treatment, the researchers found that the newly regenerated thymus had a similar structure to that of a much younger mouse. Not only that, but the functions of the thymus were also restored, which allowed the mice to make more T cells, which are crucial for the body to fight off infections. It is not yet known if the immune system was likewise improved, and thus further tests are set to be undertaken. “Our results suggest that targeting the same pathway in humans may improve thymus function and therefore boost immunity in elderly patients, or those with a suppressed immune system. However, before we test this in humans we need to carry out more work to make sure the process can be tightly controlled,” said Clare Blackburn, Professor of Tissue Stem Cell Biology, MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine.
Not only is this a monumental breakthrough in its own right, but it will likely be paving the way for a whole new set of therapies for patients. The thymus deteriorates with age, and thus older individuals are far more susceptible to infections such as the flu. Not only could it help them, but also patients with DiGeorge syndrome, a condition in which the thymus does not properly develop.
This incredible accomplishment is one worthy of note, as it is not everyday that a whole new process such as this is uncovered. Sure, it might not give us the healing powers and longevity of one of my favorite superheroes, but it is most certainly a step towards a better more healthy future through modern medicine.
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