In Brief

Scientists at Tufts University were able to graft eyes to
the tails of blind Xenopus, giving the tadpoles the ability to
detect colors, focus on objects, and consistently follow
patterns.

From Dark to Light

In a breakthrough for regenerative medicine,
researchers have developed
working eyes attached to the
tails of blind Xenopus tadpoles. The tadpoles were
able to process visual information from their environment
upon the augmentation, helping scientist understand the
process of promoting innervation (a part of the body’s nerve
supply) in regenerative medicine.

Michael Levin
PhD
 and his team at the Allen
Discovery Center at Tufts University
 published
their findings in the Nature
journal for Regenerative Medicine. They found that
placing functional eye grafts onto the tails of tadpoles
was particularly effective when they were treated
with an approved serotonin activator drug, Zolmitriptan. The
drug activates receptors 1B and 1D (5-HT1B/D), which are
associated with neural development — which is necessary
to increase innervation, integration, and function of
transplanted organs. With the help of the drug, the sighted
tadpoles showed significant ability in detecting colors,
focusing on objects, and consistently following patterns.

NatureNature, Xenopus Tadpole
with varying phenotypes, and innervation with serotonin
receptor agonist.

The Future of Regenerative Medicine

Research in regenerative medicine has yet to fully understand
and manipulate the integration of nascent nerves from
re-grown or transplanted structures. This makes it difficult
for hosts to control the behavior and cognition of repaired
structures or transplanted organs.

This advancement provides us with an important finding: one
that hadn’t been seen by humans — or tadpoles — before. Dr.
Levin, mentioned that the “research helps illuminate one way
to promote innervation and establish neural connections
between a host central nervous system and an implant, using a
human-approved small molecule drug.”

The results of the study highlight the plasticity of the
brain, suggesting that the central nervous system has the
potential to adapt in function and connectivity if the right
conditions are met. This understanding is crucial to the
development of everything from stem
cell therapies
 to
organ transplants
 in regenerative medicine.

In the future, the team hopes to identify a roadmap that
would showcase our neural network’s ability to adapt for the
purpose of advanced regenerative therapies, in conjunction
with proven drugs. The potential for regenerative medicine to
change patient’s lives is only limited by the technology it
relies on. The continued advancement of those technologies —
whether through the development of treatments, drug
therapies, or diagnostic aids — will no doubt change lives.
The possibilities are only limited by what we can’t yet
envision for the future of regenerative medicine.


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