Biologists already know that flaws in metabolic processes in mitochondria (such as cell respiration) cause aging in many cells and tissues. Now, they are exploring the converse situation. Scientists from the Stem Cell Program and Boston Children’s Hospital are doing research to see if the trait that allows young animals to easily repair and regenerate their tissues can be produced in adult animals. A protein called Lin28a (shown in image) is active in embryonic stem cells, and when scientists reactivated this protein (by reactivating the Lin28 gene) in older animals, the animals were able toregrow soft tissues (cartilage, bone, skin). Lin28a promotes this regrowth partially by improving metabolism in mitochondria as it increases the production of enzymes involved in the making of energy. As we learned in class, we need free energy to grow and create new cells. In this way, “Lin28a helps generate the energy needed to stimulate and grow new tissues”. Essentially, the enhancing of the regular energy making process that the mitochondria perform could lead to advanced “regenerative treatments”. (Click here for a graphical abstract of this study that helps to better understand the ideas behind the research.)
Additionally, experiments have been done that show that activity in the mitochondria can be enhanced without the stimulation of Lin28a. This implies that a “healing cocktail” could be created pharmacologically. I find it fascinating to see how cell processes, such as those that we learned about in class, can have such major implications for the future of regenerative medication. Will they create new, more efficient drugs to help heal wounds?