Tissue Regeneration

Harnessing the potential of stem cells for tissue repair and organ synthesis remains a major medical challenge. Animals such as hydra, salamanders and planarians have solved this problem through evolution of mechanisms that enable tissue regeneration. Planarians are flatworms that make use of adult pluripotent stem cells to re-form all differentiated cell types after essentially any injury, even decapitation. Investigators in Chris Petersen’s laboratory are studying tissue regeneration using this model system to identify regulatory mechanisms that precisely control pluripotent stem cells to allow robust tissue regeneration. 

The Molecules of Renewal

Because planarians can be grown in large numbers and have a highly exaggerated biology of tissue repair, they are a powerful system for identification of the molecular players and organizing principles underlying regeneration. Petersen’s previous and ongoing work has shown that regeneration relies on both generic and directional cues produced in response to injury and involves specialized uses of stem cells to produce signaling centers that direct tissue outgrowth.  

Innovator Award

For his work involving tissue regeneration, Chris Petersen was recently recognized with a Director’s New Innovator Award from the NIH. These awards support pioneering approaches to solve major contemporary challenges in biomedical research and will provide the Petersen laboratory with a $2.3 million research grant. Using the flatworm Schmidtea mediterranea as a model system, a key goal of the research is the complete understanding of how nature has already “discovered” regenerative medicine in some animals. This could inspire novel tissue engineering methods or strategies to promote natural repair mechanisms in humans.