Real-Life Regenerative Medicine Mirrors 'The Amazing Spider-Man'

Real-Life Regenerative Medicine Mirrors 'The Amazing Spider-Man'

Jul 25, 2012

Spider-Man Rhys IfansIt’s been a busy summer for science. After finding the Higgs boson particle and proving that Batman couldn’t really glide around on his cape without killing himself on the landings, we’ve now learned that Dr. Curt Connors’ research in The Amazing Spider-Man isn’t nearly as far-fetched as it first seems.

Rhys Ifans' character in the film becomes the villainous Lizard after he merges salamander DNA with human genetic material in an attempt to regrow his lost limb. While that experiment didn’t work out quite as planned, scientists are currently hard at work developing ways for the human body to regenerate lost limbs and organs. Who knew Stan Lee was such a brilliant scientific mind?

Unlike the comics, researchers at the Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center's Institute for Regenerative Medicine aren’t splicing lizard DNA with our own genetic code, but they are making progress in efforts to grow human replacement parts from components found in our own bodies.

Koudy Williams, a regenerative medicine researcher at the institute recently talked with Science Daily about advances in the field and how they relate to one of this summer’s biggest blockbusters.

“We're years away from being able to bioengineer an arm, or even a finger, but we're working on the component parts, including muscle, bone, fat, skin and tendons, and part of our work will be to use the body for the regeneration process."

The professor explains that there are three different methods to repair and replace lost organs and appendages. Science is working to be able to rebuild organs through the use of body cells, plus molds and supports, to repair damaged parts by injecting cells into the organ, and using drug-like molecules to heal from the inside. That last approach is very similar to what happens in the film and comics.

A lifelong Spider-Man fan, Williams caught the similarities instantly, but is quick to add that what he and his fellow researchers are working on is far less dangerous. “When I was watching the movie, I said to myself, We do that -- sort of. We do study the regenerative abilities of salamanders and other animals and we try to harness the body's innate ability to regenerate itself. But we would never combine human and animal genes -- we have much safer methods."

Williams hopes the continued research in the relatively young scientific field will eventually lead to a day where combat veterans and others who’ve lost limbs in accidents can replace them with a real flesh-and-blood appendage. He just doesn’t want you to risk turning into a walking man-lizard in the process.

Check out the full article at Science Daily for an interesting look at how pop culture is influencing scientific research. At the very least, you can cite it the next time your mother or wife tells you you’re wasting time reading those silly comics and watching superhero movies. [via Blastr]

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