Deer can do it—and we could eventually have the ability, too.
- Blastema cells in deer grow into bone and antler cartilage, holding the key to possible bone regrowth in humans.
- A Chinese study transplanted blastema cells onto mice, seeing them grow antler-like cartilage.
- Understanding the cells may prove critical in establishing a benefit for humans.
Deer grow antlers anew each spring, often at the rate of an inch per day. Now, scientists want to take the cells that power deer antler growth and figure out how to give that same ability to humans.
In a research study published in Science, a team from Northwestern Polytechnical University in Xi’an, China, saw success in transplanting antler blastema progenitor cells from deer onto the foreheads of mice that turned into small stumps within 45 days.
“The annual regrowth of deer antlers provides a valuable model for studying organ regeneration in mammals,” according to the study. This raised the hope that one day, using this research, there was the possibility of regrowth for human bones or cartilage.
As reported by The Daily Mail, deer antlers are the only known mammalian body part that regenerates annually, and also one of the fastest-growing tissues in mammals. The study researched these blastema cells in deer and located the cells sparking the annual springtime regrowth. The scientists soon found that in the weeks leading to the antler shedding, stem cells were plentiful in the stumps that never leave the deer and they then turn into these antler blastema progenitor cells after shedding before hardening into cartilage and bone.
The study says that various mammals contain the same self-renewal type of cells, but deer are the only ones employing them. “Mammals have largely lost the capacity to regenerate appendages or organs,” according to the study. “One exception is the annual regeneration of antlers in deer.” Cross-species comparison revealed the mouse has a similar type of cell, but nonmammalian species do not, “suggesting that mammals may have a distinctive regeneration mechanism.”
The success in taking these cells from deer to mice gives hope that one day there’s a true “application in clinical bone repair,” as the study says. “Beyond that, the induction of human cells into ABPC-like cells could be used in regenerative medicine for skeletal injuries or limb regeneration.”