In its January/February 2017 edition, Popular Science magazine published a small article to tackle a question not often asked “How can you grow an arm?” We can’t imagine that modern medicine is capable of this feat. Yet, since its beginning, human re-growth science has been making steady progress year by year, and we are now a hair’s breadth away from being able to attempt it.

In 2010, a researcher from Tufts University, near Boston, engineered a revolutionary instrument called the BioDome. Placed around an amputated limb, this regenerative sleeve allows the creation of an environment that promotes human tissue regeneration.This technology is notably inspired by the salamander, an amphibian capable of healing and regenerating scarred limbs thanks to immune cells called macrophages. While we do not possess the macrophages that salamanders benefit from, we have theoretically found a way to bypass them in attempts at regeneration. Here is how it would work:

Preparing a zone

Firstly, surgeons prepare the zone for the regrowth of an amputated limb by cleaning it before exposing nerves, bones, tendons, muscles, and other tissues which allow the molecules they contain to be stimulated by a low electrical impulse.

Putting the BioDome on

Surgeons then place the BioDome on the regrowth zone. For the wound to be able to conduct electrical currents it has to remain constantly moist and must not be in contact with the air, which could dry it out and cause infections. The regenerative sleeve is made from silicon, rubber and silk and is able to reproduce the ideal aquatic conditions of the womb.

The sleeve contains medical substances able to manipulate the body’s ion channels. This allows the coming and going of electrically charged molecules which then drag behind them the body’s other molecules, who in turn will activate and start developing the limb.

The bio-electrical cells will guide the cells of the patient’s body, and function in a way like lines of code that reprogram natural cells to start regeneration.

Credits: Tufts University, Dept. of Biomedical Engineering

The regeneration begins

This is a quick process, comparable to the natural development of a human foetus. This means that a person who lost an arm at 25 years old due to a car accident or a work incident could have the arm of a ten year old at 35 years of age… Aesthetics or function, that is your choice. In any case, we are now theoretically capable of regeneration.