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Could leprosy and armadillos be the key to regenerating the human body?

Posted on the 22nd November 2022

Armadillo Leprosy

Leprosy bacteria from armadillos may hold the secret to safely repairing and regenerating the body, according to research conducted by the University of Edinburgh using armadillos.

As the only other known host for the leprosy bacterium, armadillos were studied and the research showed the infection headed to their livers, where it then performed a controlled hijacking of the organ to reprogram it for its own purpose.

The results, published in Cell Reports Medicine, showed the liver nearly doubled in size.

While it might be expected that such growth would be defective or even cancerous, detailed analysis revealed the liver was both healthy and functional, complete with an array of blood vessels and bile ducts.

While it normally causes disability to the nerves, skin and eyes, in these cases, the leprosy bug is rewinding the liver’s development clock and reversing the organ’s ageing process.

Details of why this is happening remain something of a mystery.

Earlier research has shown it is possible to forcibly turn the clock back to the point at which cells regain the ability to become any other type of cell in the body. However, this process brings with it the risk of the cells turning cancerous.

It has been noted that the leprosy bugs use a slower, alternative pathway that is thought to be much safer.

Scientists are hopeful that this approach could now be harnessed and used to repair the lives of people waiting for a transplant or even reverse some of the damage caused by the ageing process.

To date, the results have been promising. However, caution has been urged as human subjects have not yet been included, and all the data relates to that obtained from armadillos.

Despite this, it is still hoped that the results could pave the way for new therapeutic approaches to the treatment of liver diseases such as cirrhosis.

Related: New research aims to reduce liver cancer deaths

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