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In Hartford, an Ambitious Goal to Regenerate Lost Limbs in Humans

Chion Wolf
UConn Health's Dr. Cato Laurencin, an engineer and surgeon.

 A group of doctors, scientists, and engineers announced an ambitious new medical goal this week in Hartford: they'll attempt to re-generate a human knee and a human limb. 

Cato Laurencinis engineer and a surgeon at UConn Health and he said bioengineering needs more grand challenges.

"Think about going to the moon -- that project of going to the moon, when it was first stated in the early 1960s -- where we had no way of being able to do it," Laurencin said. "But [we] ended up doing it in the end. The technologies that came out of that were incredible."

Like going to the moon, or sequencing the human genome, Laurencindoesn't expect his new project to happen overnight.

He calls it "HEAL" (for "Hartford Engineering A Limb"). Timelines are loose, but he anticipates needing about seven years to regenerate a knee, and about 15 years for an entire limb.

David Gardiner, a scientist at UC Irvine, said more "moonshots" are needed in the field of biology and engineering.

"The basic science culture is very, very conservative. As a result, when it comes time to go get funds to support your research, you have to almost know what the answer is going to be," Gardiner said.

Gardiner studies salamanders, which can regenerate body parts, and he's been brought on the team to identify key cells in animals involved in biological regeneration.

Credit Carla Isabel Ribeiro / Wikipedia
A tiger salamander, known for its capacity to regenerate body parts, like many other salamanders.

HEAL will also include engineers and scientists from Harvard, Columbia, and SASTRA University in India.

It's funded in part by the National Institutes of Health, private donors, and the state of Connecticut.

Patrick Skahill is a reporter and digital editor at Connecticut Public. Prior to becoming a reporter, he was the founding producer of Connecticut Public Radio's The Colin McEnroe Show, which began in 2009. Patrick's reporting has appeared on NPR's Morning Edition, Here & Now, and All Things Considered. He has also reported for the Marketplace Morning Report. He can be reached at pskahill@ctpublic.org.

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