Medicinal mouse, doctor of the spinal cord

In recent years, scientists have discovered that an African spiny mouse living in Kenya, Somalia and Tanzania can defeat injuries that destroy its skin, heart, kidneys and spinal cord – read the BBC-n.

Like the African spiny mouse, the animal has healing abilities such as axolotl, certain flatworms, salamanders, lizards, zebras, alligators. But none of these animals are as closely genetically related to humans as the African spiny mouse.

The biological secret of the little mouse

The African spiny mouse drew attention to itself in the early 2010s when it was published in several scientific journals about its miraculous abilities. Then Ashley Seifert, a researcher at the University of Florida, began experimenting with the animals: a hole was dropped in their ears, and to their great surprise, the cuts healed incredibly quickly, and new scar tissue was supplemented with hair follicles, body fat, and cartilage.

Seifert and colleagues also found that the skin of African spiny mice is abnormally weak, 20 times weaker than that of the domestic mouse. According to scientists, evolution is responsible for the development of thin skin:

if they are able to get rid of their skin, the predators will not be able to catch them.

The spinal cord of the mouse also showed miraculous abilities: it was cut through during experiments, but after a short period of immobility, almost all spiny mice were able to repair the injury. The axon, the longest extension of the neuron, regenerated at a dizzying rate.

A 2021 study found that small rodents are able to recover some of their heart tissue even after a heart attack. Staff at the Hubrecht Institute for Developmental Biology and Stem Cell Research in the Netherlands used surgery to create artificial blockages in the arteries of the mouse, and the animal was able to restore its heart function. It is likely that the immune system of mice is able to reduce inflammation after a severe injury, which may help tissue to regrow.

Exactly what makes this possible is still unclear, although macrophages (white blood cells that absorb bacteria and stimulate the immune response) can play a role. These can be the main drivers of inflammation rising and then stopping.

Healing animals

Studies have shown that retinoids (a family of vitamin A derivatives) help certain animals self-heal by regulating the growth of epithelial cells.

Sea cucumber is able to regenerate its intestines thanks to retinoic acid, jellyfish are able to regenerate large and complex body parts, zebrafish regrow its fins and their larvae regenerate the spinal cord.

While the road to revolutionary drugs and therapies inspired by African spiny mice (experiments with painkillers and cell extraction) may still be a long way off, the miraculous abilities of the little mouse are likely to change modern medicine.

(Cover image:frick spiny mouse. Photo: Shutterstock)

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