Using a variety of methods including a kind of gene therapy, the scientists altered the electrical properties of cells thus inducing regeneration. This discovery may provide clues about how bioelectricity can be used to help humans regenerate.
This study, for the first time, gave scientists a direct glimpse of the source of natural electric fields that are crucial for regeneration, as well as revealing how these are produced. In addition, the findings provide the first detailed mechanistic synthesis of bioelectrical, molecular-genetic, and cell-biological events underlying the regeneration of a complex vertebrate structure that includes skin, muscle, vasculature and critically spinal cord.
During the Forsyth study, the activity of a yeast proton pump (which produces H+ ion flow and thus sets up regions of higher and lower pH) triggered the regeneration of the frog's tail during the normally quiescent time.
Applied electric fields have long been known to enhance regeneration in amphibia, and in fact have led to clinical trials in human patients. However, the molecular sources of relevant currents and the mechanisms underlying their control have remained poorly understood. To truly make strides in regenerative medicine, we need to understand the innate components that underlie bioelectrical events during normal development and regeneration. The ability to stop regeneration by blocking a particular H+ pump and to induce regeneration when it is normally absent, means they have found at least one critical component.