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UK scientists manipulate DNA to regenerate living organ

8th April 2014

An elderly organ in a living animal has been regenerated into a youthful state for the first time, UK researchers say.

Dna (2)The thymus is an organ situated near the heart. It produced T-cells which are critical in fighting off infection. The thymus deteriorates over time and by the age of 70 it is a tenth of the size of a young adult's.

A team at the MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine, at the University of Edinburgh, managed to rejuvenate the organ in mice by manipulating their DNA.

Experts say the study was likely to have "broad implications" for regenerative medicine.

The gene, called Foxn1, naturally gets decreases as the thymus ages, so the researchers aimed to boost it back to youthful levels. This was done with a drug and tested on elderly mice. The activity of the gene was measured and the results were positive.

Published in the journal Development, they showed that boosting Foxn1 activity in elderly mice could regenerate their thymus, and it looked as if it were from a much younger animal.

One of the researchers, Dr Nick Bredenkamp, said: "We could regenerate the thymus using this method. It increases in size and makes more T-cells. It almost completely regenerated."

Regenerating the entire organ

It is not certain why the thymus shrinks with age. One theory is that needs a lot of energy to run, which the body starts to lose as it diverts towards reproduction during adolescence.

The researchers argued that the technique could eventually be adapted to work in people, but it would need to be 'tightly controlled' to ensure the immune system did not then go into overdrive and attack the body.

It also raises the point: what other organs will it work on?

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