New Device Allows Frogs to Regenerate Their Legs

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The African clawed frog's feet can grow back because of the new device made by a team of scientists. / Photo by: Dewald Kirsten via Shutterstock

 

Only a few animals have the special ability to regrow parts of their body. A few can even function without some of their body parts at all, like how cockroaches can still move even without their heads. A team of scientists recently created a device that can induce partial hindlimb regeneration in adult aquatic African clawed frogs. This device functions by speeding up the process of the tissue repair on the amputation site, meaning the frogs can essentially grow their feet back in a short amount of time. This device was showcased in the journal called Cell Reports, introducing a new model of testing ‘electroceuticals’.

Michael Levin, the senior author of the report and a developmental biologist at the Allen Discovery Center at Tufts University, states, “At best, adult frogs normally grow back only a featureless, thin, cartilaginous spike, our procedure included a regenerative response they normally never have, which resulted in bigger, more structured appendages. The bioreactor device triggered very complex downstream outcomes that bioengineers cannot yet micromanage directly.” This bioreactor was 3D printed using silicon as its base, and was filled with hydrogel (a sticky substance of polymers). The researchers then added hydrating silk proteins to the hydrogel, which promotes healing and regeneration, then subsequently added progesterone, which is most notable for helping in preparation  the uterus for pregnancy. From all the tests that the team conducted, they found that this device triggered limb regeneration not observed in other groups. Levin says,  “The bioreactor device created a supportive environment for the wound where the tissue could grow as it did during embryogenesis.”

This is a revolutionary new device and, although Levin and his team are still testing the limits of this bioreactor, they plan to add more sensors to the device in the hope that this can improve control over cellular decision-making after injury.