Spiny Mouse That Can Regenerate Skin Without Leaving Scars Shows Potential For Human Therapy

A review of research into the spiny mouse presents exciting opportunities for regenerative medicine. Eric Isselee/Shutterstock.com

The ability to regenerate organs and limbs is a covetable skill held by some members of the animal kingdom. Lizards are famous for their tail growing skills (and sometimes grow back more than one) while alligators recently joined the club as it was found they too can regenerate a lost tail. Unfortunately, it’s a skillset humans are without (unless you count that lizard guy from Spiderman) but it’s the focus of much research hoping to one day harness its mechanisms for use in human medicine, improving recovery times, and reducing complications that often follow invasive surgeries.

One group of mice are fast emerging as an exciting research organism due to their remarkable ability to undergo scarless regeneration of complex tissues including skin and skeletal muscle. A Perspective article published in the journal NPJ Regenerative Medicine details the incredible regeneration ability of the spiny mouse (genus Acomys), which exhibits scar-free healing while also sharing some physiological processes with humans, making them a hopeful candidate for translatable insights.

In a study (Seifert et al, Nature 2012) spiny mice were able to regrow complex skin tissue without forming a scar. Shared with permission the Open Access NPJ Regenerative Medicine paper, CC by 4.0 

When you cut your hand, your skin isn’t able to regenerate itself and so instead the wound is sealed with dense scar tissue through fibrosis, an umbrella term for the process that forms scar tissue. Fibrosis can sometimes work against us, causing complications in multiple organs, which can be deadly and account for around 45 percent of all deaths in the United States, according to the paper’s authors. It’s hoped that through the development of regenerative medicine, physicians could one day replace and restore damaged tissues and remove the suffering caused by fibrosis-related conditions.

Studies have investigated a variety of spiny mouse tissues to see how well they can regenerate, and the results prove that this species is a prime contender for regenerative medicine. Studies have shown at least three Acomys species can fully regenerate and regrow complex tissues, including removed ear tissue, damaged kidney tissue, and even recovering from trauma to the heart. While the exact mechanisms behind these regenerations have not yet been isolated, it's hoped future research could inspire novel therapeutic approaches for patients with debilitating illnesses.

Acomys is particularly exciting for human medicine as they are known to exhibit human-like physiological characteristics that are rare in rodents including menstruation, acquired diabetes (from a high-fat or high-sugar diet), and the production of steroid hormones. These similarities paint a hopeful picture that insights gleaned from the research of these animals could one day be translated for effective use in humans.

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