A reader, Angry Doctor, has posed a question - if you have lost a limb, can it grow back? And can you use your mind to help it do so?
I think he meant to be sarcastic, but it really is quite an interesting question. So I decided to check it out to see how this might be possible.
Firstly, I typed "How to Grow A Limb" into Google. It turns out that there ARE scientists working on this question (and no, they aren't studying starfish or salamanders).
Here's a quick excerpt from one article:
Talkin’ ‘Bout Regeneration
Growing human arms in test tubes isn’t science fiction. It’s the future of medicine.
BY EMILY LANDES
When David Gardiner first began researching regenerative medicine two decades ago, many of his fellow biologists told him he was wasting his time on a science that would never produce results. Regenerating human hearts and lungs for transplant? Fantasy. Creating entirely new limbs for amputees? Ridiculous.
Five years ago the reaction changed slightly to, “Well, maybe. Just not any time soon.” But recently, with high profile cases like Dolly the cloned sheep and Christopher Reeve reporting he has recovered some use of his central nervous system, the regenerative medicine field has been blown wide open. Now, anything is considered possible.
“We’ve gone from this mainstream science view that regeneration is just kind of a fascinating thing that some animals do,” says Gardiner, a researcher at UC Irvine. “And that’s completely changed. Now everybody’s going, ‘Well, how come we haven’t done it already. What’s taking so long?’”
While Gardiner does caution that limb regeneration is “a long, long, long way away,” he sees no reason why it couldn’t happen in his lifetime. “I think, of course, it’s going to happen. It’s not that difficult. So many of the cells and the tissues in our arm have the ability to regenerate,” he says.
“These aren’t magical properties. Regeneration is not magic. What’s missing is the ability to get them to do the right thing, at the right time and in the right place. So, it’s like the orchestra with no conductor. You have all the bits and pieces and what’s missing is the blueprint.”
If researchers can figure out the blueprint, re-growing a limb could become a routine procedure that would go something like this: A person comes into the hospital with an arm severed at the shoulder. The doctor creates some kind of signal, electrical or biological, which tells the body that instead of forming scar tissue, it should instead form a blastema, the first nub of regeneration.
Well, this scientist seems pretty certain that it's just a matter of time. The process, it seems, is to send an electrical or biological signal that tells the body to grow a new limb, instead of forming scar tissue.
I'm no doctor. But I do know that electrical signals are sent around the body by the central nervous system. The central nervous system includes the brain. In fact the brain uses the nervous system to send electrical signals around the body to tell it what to do.
Theoretically, if the brain sends out the right electrical signals, what the article mentioned should be achievable. The blastema will form. A new limb will grow. It all depends on whether you can manipulate your brain in the right way.
Theoretically, if the brain gets involved in generating the right biological signals, what the article mentioned should be achievable too. The blastema will form. A new limb will grow. It all depends on whether you can manipulate your brain in the right way.
Is this really astounding? Hmmm. It's interesting, but it's not such a far stretch, The brain is of course involved in hormone production processes (actually, I'm not sure if there's hardly any human biological process in which the brain is NOT involved) which means it is always involved in sending biological signals.
And we already know that hypnosis can help flesh wounds and broken bones to heal significantly faster - this study by Harvard Medical School says so. That means that the mind is quite able to influence matters at a cellular level.
Yes, yes. But is it really possible to think your way to a new arm? I don't know, maybe. Maybe not now, but maybe in future, we'll figure it out. I mean, through genetic engineering, we've already got mice to grow human ears. Would it be really amazing if humans could grow human arms? And if humans could kickstart, speed up or control that process with their thoughts? I don't think so. I mean, yogis have already demonstrated their ability, under clinically controlled laboratory experiments, to manipulate supposedly non-voluntary (autonomic) bodily processes. Like Swami Rama:
"He amazed scientists by his demonstration, under laboratory conditions, of precise conscious control of autonomic physical responses and mental functioning, previously thought to be impossible. Under these scientific conditions, Swami Rama demonstrated his ability to stop his heart from pumping blood for seventeen seconds, to produce a ten-degree difference in temperature between different parts of the palm of his hand, and to voluntarily produce and maintain specific brain wave patterns on demand. He first generated brain wave patterns that were predominately characterized by beta waves; then he produced alpha waves, which are generally associated with a relaxed state. Finally, he was able to demonstrate the production of theta waves. Theta waves are associated with unconscious states, in contrast to alpha and beta waves, which are associated with conscious states. While producing theta waves, Swami Rama appeared to be in a state of deep sleep. However, he was able to recall everything that had transpired in the room during that period." Link.Who knows, maybe HE would have some idea of how to grow a new limb.
Side note: did you know that children aged 2 and below who lose their fingertips in accidents can consistently grow them back? I learned that from this article. Unfortunately, such regrowth is rare in adult humans, but scientists are now experimenting to see whether they can use certain pig extracts to get injured soldiers to grow new fingers.