June 23, 2010

David Stocum is the director of the Center for Regenerative Biology and Medicine at the IUPUI School of Science. He and his team are studying how amphibians regenerate parts of their bodies to see if there are ways to induce humans to regenerate tissue that is lost or damaged. The center has about 20 researchers and funding of about $14 million to fuel its quest.

IBJ: How certain are you that amphibians and humans share enough in common that your insights into the one could translate to the other?

A: I personally don’t have any doubt about it. We’ve found the human counterparts for about 97 percent of the proteins that we identified from the regenerating axolotl [a kind of salamander]. What people forget, even the scientists forget, is that everything we know about human developmental genetics comes from an organism even farther removed [from humans]: the fruit fly. And the other one is the roundworm.

IBJ: How long do you think it might be until scientists develop a therapy to help humans regenerate tissues or even body parts?

A: There really isn’t any way to predict. Maybe the first thing that may be achievable may be the regeneration of bone over a wide gap. It depends on how many [researchers] are engaged in it. If I had to put timelines on it, 20 years is probably a good guess.

IBJ: Have more researchers been studying this area recently?

A: It’s enormous now. Ever since this discovery was made [four years ago] that you could convert stem fiber blasts into embryonic stem cells, this has just blossomed. The amphibians regenerate in a similar manner: They reprogram cells naturally. That’s another reason we’re studying amphibians, because they reprogram their cells naturally. We’d like to know how they do that.


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