Monday, February 19, 2007

A new definition of "sausage fingers"

Scientists have been trying to figure out for decades, if not longer, how certain animals can regenerate missing pieces. Studies have been done producing spontaneously healing mice, salamanders with more arms than an Hindu goddess, and a new breakthrough for humans. This summer, testing will begin to discover whether a powdered pig extract can result in the regrowth of lost fingers and, potentially, full limbs.

If this technology ends up working, it could lead to huge advances overall. People could not only regrow their missing digits, but the overly-scar-conscious could get new skin instead of the usual puckering. Nevermind the thought of everyone being able to count to ten on their fingers, no matter what type of accident they may have experienced in the past.

Ultimately, the scientists are hoping to be able to reproduce in humans something found in salamanders, with their ability to reproduce missing limbs quickly. Instead of the usual scarring found in many creatures, which has a tendency to halt the healing process, salamanders produce a bundle of cells that carries the "memory" of what had been in place before. Substitute this bundle of cells, in whole or in part, and you can theoretically produce new copies in places that they didn't previously exist.

While the scientists are making progress, and have even bred mice to produce blastemas instead of scars, the reality of limb or digit regeneration is still quite a ways off. While there have been isolated instances, there is nothing sustainable as of yet. Still, that could ultimately be a good thing. After all, is the world really prepared for a whole new level of plastic surgery, where people grow a third (or fourth) arm just because it's possible?

And don't even get us started on what it could (and probably would) mean for breast augmentation. We can't help but flash back to Total Recall on that one.

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