In Hartford, an Ambitious Goal to Regenerate Lost Limbs in Humans | Connecticut Public Radio

In Hartford, an Ambitious Goal to Regenerate Lost Limbs in Humans

Nov 13, 2015

 A group of doctors, scientists, and engineers announced an ambitious new medical goal this week in Hartford: they'll attempt to re-generate a human knee and a human limb. 

Cato Laurencin is engineer and a surgeon at UConn Health and he said bioengineering needs more grand challenges.

"Think about going to the moon -- that project of going to the moon, when it was first stated in the early 1960s -- where we had no way of being able to do it," Laurencin said. "But [we] ended up doing it in the end. The technologies that came out of that were incredible."

Like going to the moon, or sequencing the human genome, Laurencin doesn't expect his new project to happen overnight.

He calls it "HEAL" (for "Hartford Engineering A Limb"). Timelines are loose, but he anticipates needing about seven years to regenerate a knee, and about 15 years for an entire limb.

David Gardiner, a scientist at UC Irvine, said more "moonshots" are needed in the field of biology and engineering.

"The basic science culture is very, very conservative. As a result, when it comes time to go get funds to support your research, you have to almost know what the answer is going to be," Gardiner said.

Gardiner studies salamanders, which can regenerate body parts, and he's been brought on the team to identify key cells in animals involved in biological regeneration.

A tiger salamander, known for its capacity to regenerate body parts, like many other salamanders.
Credit Carla Isabel Ribeiro / Wikipedia

HEAL will also include engineers and scientists from Harvard, Columbia, and SASTRA University in India.

It's funded in part by the National Institutes of Health, private donors, and the state of Connecticut.