The day when mammals and perhaps humans could regrow limbs is soon approaching as scientists near a breakthrough.

The first phases of limb regeneration observed in some amphibians, echinoderms and many plants has been replicated in mice for the first time, according to new research featured in the journal ACS Chemical Biology.

The project represents the first time scientists have replicated these beginning stages of limb regeneration in mammals.

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Essentially, the process is somewhat similar to stem cell differentiation. Rather than unspecialized cells turning into specialized cells such as heart and skin cells, there’s another step.

In a process called “dedifferentiation,” specialized cells such as those found in bone muscle turn into unspecialized cells and then change again into another type of specialized cell different than what they started as.

In the experiment, scientists applied a combination of chemicals to skeletal muscle in mice tissue in hopes of creating dedifferentiation. Specifically, this included using compounds called “small molecules” and altering a promoter, or a range of DNA that controls a specific gene.

After applying the treatment to the skeletal muscle cells, researchers were able to coax cells into changing into fat and bone cells, which play a large role in the early stages of limb regeneration.

With more research, it’s plausible that the technique could benefit humans and mammals that lost limbs in accidents.

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But in the short-term, regenerating limbs isn’t all that’s to be gained. Understanding how cells become multipotent may help researchers create new treatments for patients’ wounds — limb-related or otherwise.

For salamanders, limb regrowth takes about 40 days after a limb has been severed. Preparing the technique also takes several days, but seems the most effective if applied in the first minutes after injury, researchers say.

Photo by Sarah_Jones/