It’s long been known that young animals recover more quickly from injuries than older ones - from insects and fish to mammals including ourselves. But what’s not known is why or how this happens. Now researchers from Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School in the US have found a gene that seems to be responsible, publishing their findings in the journal Cell.
The researchers suspected that a gene called Lin28a, which is very active in embryos from many species, but shut down in adults, may be playing a role in the phenomenon. To find out, they reactivated the gene in adult mice, and discovered that these animals could grow their hair back faster after shaving and had quicker wound healing.
Lin28a is involved in activating processes involved in energy production and use within cells, known as metabolism, and the researchers found they could bypass the need to switch the gene on by using drugs that directly stimulate cell metabolism. The scientists speculate that Lin28a - or drugs that work in a similar way to it - could form part of a “healing cocktail” that could help restore youthful healing properties to older adults, potentially opening up exciting possibilities for fixing injuries, healing wounds, or treating and diseases.