Free Radicals Could Help Regenerate Human Tissue

Remember when you were a kid and scraped your knee? Your mother probably poured hydrogen peroxide on the cut to clean it out.

Well, now scientists have found that hydrogen peroxide may be responsible for regenerating tissue. Researchers at the University of Manchester have discovered that the molecule — a reactive oxygen species (ROS) — is tissue regenerationinstrumental in regrowing tadpole tails.

This discovery does not mean that you could have grown a new knee when your mom poured the liquid on the cut. But scientists do think that finding the right ROS levels in the body could improve our ability to heal or regenerate damaged tissue.

These reactive molecules — often called free radicals — are sometimes beneficial because they are involved in cell signaling and maintaining homeostasis, reports GizMag. But when they become too concentrated, they can cause cell damage or prompt aging.

However, in recent years, evidence has grown that ROS may not be as damaging as once thought. For example, research led by Professor Enrique Amaya at the University of Manchester showed that hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) was the catalyst responsible for regenerating tadpoles’ tails in two weeks. GizMag describes the research:

With the aid of a fluorescent dye, Amaya and colleagues started by measuring the level of hydrogen peroxide as a tadpole’s tail was regenerating. They were able to show that H2O2 levels swiftly increase following tail amputation and that the levels remained elevated throughout the tail regeneration process.

Still, despite these results, the hydrogen peroxide could have been a byproduct, not a catalyst of the cell regeneration. To check this, the researchers limited ROS production in two different ways: first, by using chemicals, including antioxidants — which suppress ROS — and second, removing a gene responsible for ROS production. In both cases, the regeneration process did not occur.

“Our research suggests that ROS are essential to initiate and sustain the regeneration response,” Amaya says. “We also found that ROS production is essential to activate Wnt signalling, which has been implicated in essentially every studied regeneration system, including those found in humans.”

Amaya wants to take this research and apply it for humans’ benefit. He believes there may be a “Goldilocks” ideal level of ROS in the human body: When levels are too low, proper healing cannot occur; when levels are too high, cellular destruction occurs; but when the levels are just right, then healing can occur at a maximum speed.

Source: “Vilified free radicals boost tissue healing and regeneration in tadpoles (and perhaps humans),” GizMag, 1/16/13
Image by Fbiole.