Every spring, deer shed their antlers, and in early fall they have a new set. This bone formation that grows from the frontal bone of a deer can reach about three centimeters per day, which is one of the fastest rates of bone growth among mammals. Chinese scientists at Northwestern Polytechnic University in Xi’an have identified the stem cells responsible for this rapid growth. Carrying it out on mice, they grew antler-like structures on their foreheads. All this in order to better understand the newly recognized potential of cells in the context of regeneration, which in turn may be useful in developing new therapies in the regeneration of broken bones, and possibly in the regeneration of organs.
The description and results of the research have been published in Science (DOI: 10.1126/science.add0488).
Regenerative medicine and deer antlers
The horns of some mammals grow at a rate of 2.75 cm per day at their peak. As you can clearly see, this tissue regenerates very quickly. At the same time, it provides an opportunity to take a closer look at how mammals in general are able to regenerate their cells. Antlers are particularly noteworthy in this context, because mammals have largely lost their ability to regenerate organs and most types of tissues. In contrast, a better understanding of the process of regular antler reconstruction is likely to be of medical interest, as it could open up new possibilities in the context of regeneration of fractured bones.
But how did the scientists manage to get mice to grow something that looked like horns? By delving into the mechanisms behind antler regrowth, scientists have identified a number of genes and cells that play a role in this process. 10 days before the next moose antler was shed, the scientists were able to identify the type of stem cells that were most active in the process of regenerating the antlers. Interestingly, they remain in deer antlers for a short time after they are shed.
Small horns on the heads of mice
After identifying the different stages of antler development, the researchers harvested those stem cells with the greatest potential for recovery. The best moment for this turned out to be the fifth day after getting rid of the horns. They were then developed in a petri dish and finally implanted on the head of a rat. After about 45 days, they have already begun to grow something like small horns on their heads, which indicates that the transplanted cells have turned into bone tissue, which is important for the regeneration of broken bones.
A better understanding of the processes responsible for the rapid regrowth of horns may be important to medicine because of the potential for regeneration of broken bones. However, there is a long way to go to achieve this. We certainly should not assume that the results of this research will automatically translate into the rapid development of a method for improving fracture healing. Doctors will have to deal with a number of potential issues beforehand.
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