Renewable interest; CellThera funding helps it pursue tissue re-growth technology.


Byline: Lisa Eckelbecker WORCESTER - Chop off a salamander's leg and the limb re-grows. A child who loses the tip of a finger can pull off the same feat of regeneration. But when it comes to adults, no such powers exist. The federal government is asking two teams of U.S. researchers to try to change that with multimillion-dollar grants, including one grant to a team that includes CellThera Inc., a small biotechnology company that will be working at Worcester Polytechnic Institute on technology to awaken the memory of cells so they build new tissues. CellThera Chief Science Officer Tanja Dominko and two other CellThera employees will work on the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency program, which is aimed at helping soldiers wounded on the battlefield. Led by a researcher at Tulane University and composed of scientists from across the country, the team will have $3.9 million for one year of work and the possibility of obtaining further grants for additional work. The idea of humans re-growing a lost digit or section of tissue is not so outlandish, the scientists say. "All our cells do have the same DNA and imprint for development," Ms. Dominko said. "Deep down inside, the imprint for becoming every cell is present in every cell in the body." DARPA's grants to researchers for work on tissue regeneration come at a time when thousands of U.S. soldiers injured in Iraq or Afghanistan are grappling with devastating injuries caused by grenades, shrapnel and explosive devices planted in the ground. Medical advances made by military medics and surgeons mean that more soldiers are surviving their wounds in current conflicts than in previous conflicts, according to a 2004 analysis by The New England Journal of Medicine. Yet guiding tissue to regenerate in those soldiers rather than scar over is still a new field. Some of the excitement researchers feel comes from research into embryonic stem cells and cloning. By manipulating cells, some scientists have been able to clone goats, cows and even a cat. Other researchers have pushed stem cells in laboratory dishes to turn into heart cells and other tissues. DARPA's money is going to two teams who will tackle different angles of the regeneration question. The team, led by Ken Muneoka of Tulane University in New Orleans, a cell biology professor who has long studied tissue regeneration in mice, will include skin cell and salamander experts from the University of California at Irvine and a proteomics expert from the...

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