The simple flat worm may reveal a method to treat memory loss. Gardeners dislike these flat worms because they eat their valuable earthworms. However, memory scientists adore flatworms. Consider the fact that the non parasitic flatworm, Planarians planarians, has the ability to retain all memory when it regenerates a severed brain within 14 days – yes, these worms can routinely regenerate a severed brain or any other severed body part. This ability is because the worms have a very high percentage of pluripotent stem cells which can develop into any cell type, when required. But how does it retain the memory lost in the severed brain cells? Quoting CBS News :
Apparently losing your head doesn’t have to mean losing your mind. At least, not if you’re a worm.
Brain, Stem cells and Memory – a worm’s role?
You might ask what memory can a lowly worm have? For over two decades Scientists have trained flatworms to show memory traits that can be measured. An environmental familialization protocol can be measured automatically.
A trained decapitated worm can exhibit memory retrieval after regenerating a new head. The time limit for memory retrieval is about 14 days. They needed a lesson but the memory returned once stimulated said Dr Levin of Tuft University. This allows scientists to study the relation of the brain and the body in memory. The worm does not automatically lose it’s memory when it loses it’s brain. Where does the worm store it’s memory if not in it’s brain? There is obviously a connection between brain, unknown body cells and memory loss since there is a 14 day window of memory retention in these flatworms.
The unlimited possibilities of severed brain research
Are you thinking what Pursue Natural is thinking? If you are suggesting that perhaps this worm offers the opportunity to study brain regeneration and memory therapy in humans, then yes. Is it possible that the aging Alzheimers Dementia person has a hope that they could regenerate memory – that is if worm research can reveal how pluripotent stem cells in worms retain memory lost in a severed brain. Where and how is memory stored in a worm – if not in the brain?
The answer might help not only aging humans but also any memory loss patients such as athletes, who lose memory during a sports concussion. Pursue Natural hopes it might assist the Autistic individual regain their lost communication skills, which are apparently controlled by an interconnection between the brain and the immune system, in an unknown manner. Could similar research reveal how communication skills are controlled by the brain and might be “lost” from an unknown environmental trigger/s? Perhaps if these worms could be trained to communicate in a manner that can be measured, then the loss and regain issues related to brain – body may be revealed.
Pluripotent stem cells are obtained from the human donor in need of therapy, can self renew, and largely mitigates any immune reaction. Ethical questions are skipped since these stem cells are not derived from an embryo but the patient’s own cells and can produce specific specialized cells instead of an entire human being.
Quoting Dr. Levin of Tufts University,
“The implications are that learned information can be stored in tissues outside the brain, and that this information can be imprinted upon newly regenerating brains. We do not know how much of this extends to humans, although these worms are not primitive creatures — they have a true centralized brain and many similarities to the human body-plan and genome”.
Who is working on regenerating severed brains?
Scientist around the world are working on this problem since it is a hot topic in biologial research. Naturally, parts of the world which are uneducated about the positive implications of stem cell research are either behind or unable to participate in this growing biological field.
Tuft University researchers T. Shomrat and M. Levin shed light on the fundamental interface between body patterning and stored memories and published their results in the Journal of Experimental Biology in the summer of this year, 2013.
Many genes have been identified for brain regeneration. Click here for the detailed review of process in 2008 by which the brain is regenerated or the genes involved in brain regeneration by Kiyokazu Agata and Yoshihiko Umesono of Kyoto University, Kitashirakawa-Oiwake, Sakyo-ku, Kyoto, Japan.
The worm CNS or central nervous system has been analyzed by the team including K. Agata as early as in 1998 when at Kobe University, Nada, Kobe, Japan.
The proteins and genes involved in relevant stem cell maintenance are being researched and beginning to be identified. Click here for the team led by Vittorio Gremigni of Università di Pisa, Pisa, Italy in 2005.
Other science sites discussing the phenomenon of worm brain regeneration.
i09 we come from the future – has a photo of a decapitated worm’s progress to a new head in 7, 10, and 14 days.
CBS News – which has an illustration of the a decapitated worm’s progress to a new head in 7, 10, and 14 days along with a pictorial suggesting what memory is lost with decapitation and how this memory gradually returns.
If you appreciate such research, do encourage these researchers around teh world to continue their work.