JMU Biologists Explore Possibility of Humans Re-Growing Limbs

Jul 23, 2019

JMU biologists amputated the pelvic fins of young paddlefish to test their regrowth. After several weeks of observation, they discovered new fin growth in the paddlefish.

Two professors in James Madison University’s biology department are part of a team studying whether limb regeneration in animals can be duplicated in humans.  WMRA’s Calvin Pynn reports.

JMU professors Marcus Davis and (visiting professor) Amanda Cass studied American paddlefish for their unique bone structure before exploring their potential to re-grow their fins.

MARCUS DAVIS:  One of the questions is: why can’t we regenerate our skeletons after injury? So what we’re doing is leveraging the ability of animals that do have that superpower to regenerate their skeletons.

Davis and Cass amputated the pelvic fins of young paddlefish to test their regrowth. After several weeks of observation, they discovered that paddlefish have that superpower as well.  For Cass, it was a “eureka” moment.

AMANDA CASS: When we did the staining and actually looked at that, we noticed that yes, in fact, there was new fin growth beyond the cut plane. It was a very exciting moment and I went running down the hall with the picture on my phone saying “Look look really it is there!”

Those results were published in a paper earlier this month along with similar results from research at Michigan State University, the Federal University of Para in Brazil and the Leibniz Institute in Berlin that studied other fish and amphibian species. According to Davis, that collective effort shows that reactivating the genetic capability in humans to regrow limbs could one day be possible.

DAVIS: That bears hope that we may also have that program and that through some nudging through therapy, we may be able to reactivate parts of that program. That’s the exciting part, we just have to figure out where that nudging needs to occur and how we can do it.

Although the possibility of testing limb regrowth in humans is still a long way off, Davis said that when the time comes, he hopes JMU will get to take part in that research as well.