Using Cancer To Cure Spinal Cord Injury

Can unrestricted cell growth help our neurons regenerate after traumatic damage?

Image Credit: pxfuel

Regeneration to Cancer

When grabbed by a predator lizards have a strange a defense mechanism: their tail pops off while the rest of the lizard runs off safe and (mostly) sound. Later, the lizard will regrow its tail like nothing ever happened. Image PetMD

Regeneration in the Brain

Ease of language acquisition falls off a steep cliff right before puberty. This increasing difficulty shows how quickly our brains lose plasticity as we age. Image Credit: Brain Mechanisms in Early Language Acquisition
The graph (left) shows how far individual neurons of different ages can grow, from embryonic day 17 (E17) to postnatal day 11 (P11). The images (right) show two different neurons, one older (P8) and one younger (E20). Notice how much longer the young cell gets over the same period of time. Source: Goldberg et al., 2002

Reactivating Regeneration

The results of a high content neurite outgrowth screen in which hundreds of genes were overexpressed in cultured neurons. The upper bar graph shows genes that are downregulated as the neurons grow older, and you can see that several of them enhance growth when overexpressed. The lower bar graph shows genes that are upregulated as the neurons grow older, and you can see that quite a few of them inhibit growth when overexpressed. In the upper right corner, you can see the imaging view that the algorithm uses to traces the neurites through the microscope.

Causing Cancer On Purpose

Genetic mutations can cause mitotic cells to continue dividing pathologically until they form a tumor. However, the same mutations in postmitotic neurons don’t cause cancer, because neurons don’t divide. Instead, we theorized that these cancer-causing mutations would enhance neuron regeneration.

From Cancer To The Future

Author of Organumics: An Epigenetic Re-Framing of Consciousness, Life, and Evolution.

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