University of Calgary-led study looks into the secret behind reindeer regeneration

It’s probably not Christmas magic, but a group of scientists at the University of Calgary is looking into why reindeer maintain an uncanny ability to perfectly regenerate their skin all their lives.

The study is being conducted at the school’s faculty of veterinary medicine under Dr. Jeff Biernaskie, professor of stem cell biology and regenerative medicine and the Calgary Firefighters Burn Treatment Society’s (CFBTS) chair in skin regeneration and wound healing.

Biernaskie says if they can unlock the secret, it could have huge implications for healing treatments.

“The basic question that my lab is interested in is why is it that mammals, including humans, have evolved to form scars after severe tissue injury. How can we alter that process in order to reinstate regeneration?” said Biernaskie in a statement.

According to his research, humans do have the regenerative ability while they are embryos, but lose it shortly after birth.

He says reindeer have the ability well into adulthood, something that is seen in the annual growth of antlers that are shed in the winter and regrow in the summer.

Biernaskie says reindeer are better examples to work with than other regenerating creatures like salamanders, because their size and physiology is closer to humans.

Assistance is also being provided by Dr. Sarthak Sinha and Dr. Holly Sparks, officials say. Sparks, an assistant professor of large animal surgery at the University of Calgary, says there are a number of wildlife experts who are pooling their resources for the research.

“Using this information, we can begin to develop new approaches to improve healing for both humans and animals,” she said.

All three of the lead researchers say the research is a ‘stepping stone’ in the right direction when it comes to scar-free healing in humans.

The team’s research has been published online and includes contributions from Yale University, the University of Kentucky and the Morgridge Institute for Research in Wisconsin.

It was funded through a grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council and philanthropy from the Calgary Firefighters Burn Treatment Society.

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