Geckos can regenerate tissue and heal without scarring, and Prof. Matt Vickaryous, Biomedical Sciences, wants to understand how they do it. Learning how geckos avoid scars and still heal rapidly without excessive fluid loss and infection could help researchers find ways to improve the healing process in humans.
In the wild, the gecko’s long tail can be released if a predator grabs it, allowing the gecko to escape. The tail breaks off along a fracture plane in the middle of a vertebra, and the gecko appears to be able to determine where that break will be — whether he wants to give up a little bit of his tail or a lot of it. Over the next month, a new tail spontaneously grows.
Vickaryous says there are two requirements for regeneration. One is that stem cells are present, and the other is that the site of damaged tissue — the wound environment — is permissive and allows those stem cells to reproduce and grow new tissue.
“In addition to re-growing tails, wounds to the skin of geckos can regenerate perfectly,” says Vickaryous, who received a five-year grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada to continue his research. “Geckos can heal without forming scar tissue. We think this ability is due in part to the limited number of blood vessels that appear at the wound site following injury.”
Geckos can also regenerate their spinal cords, which extend the full length of the tail. Vickaryous and his team have discovered cell populations in the brain that activate following tail loss. Researchers are exploring the role of these cells with the goal of helping people with spinal cord injuries.