The Yamanaka lab’s discovery that forced expression of just four genes is sufficient to induce the dedifferentiation of fibroblasts was one of the major technical advances in stem cell biology in the past decade. As incredible as this technical advance is, the induced dedifferentiation of adult tissues occurs naturally during urodele amphibian tissue regeneration without any external help.
Using the Mexican salamander (a.k.a., the axolotl, Ambystoma mexicanum) as a model system, we are investigating the control of limb regeneration at both a whole animal level as well as at a more biochemical level. The ultimate goal is to identify the cues, which can induce post-mitotic cells to re-enter the cell cycle in an analogous manner to the generation of induced Pluripotent Stem Cells (iPSCs). The potential therapeutic applications of induced, controlled tissue regeneration range from enhanced or “scarless” wound healing to superior treatments for tissue degenerative diseases (i.e., Parkinson’s Disease, degenerative arthritis).