Starting in 2009, Ashley W. Seifert, Ph.D, assistant professor at University of Kentucky, began what would become an ongoing project in Kenya to investigate a possible link between regeneration and immunity in wild rodents. Funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) as a collaborative project with colleagues at the University of Georgia and the University of Nairobi, Seifert established a small molecular lab at the University of Nairobi where he has deepened his understanding of how the inflammatory and immune response can regulate tissue regeneration in mammals.
While Seifert and his colleagues strive to understand the basic biology about how diverse vertebrates are capable of re-growing complex tissues, they also hope to their knowledge will inform new therapies to address human healing.
“Generally speaking, we’ve operated under this idea that, unlike salamanders and fish that are capable of regenerating tissues, warm-blooded animals heal by producing scar tissue,” Seifert said. “This assumption may be true, but we also haven’t looked very hard across the natural diversity of vertebrates, especially within mammals.”
Seifert has already shown that at least one mammal, the African spiny mouse, can respond to injury by regenerating complex tissues including skin, hair and cartilage.
Seifert’s work includes trapping rodents in the Kenyan savannah and transporting them back to his lab at UON. There, Seifert and his collaborators make small holes in the rodents’ ears to induce regeneration. They collect tissue and blood during healing in an attempt to discover how different genes control the regenerative response to injury. Specifically, they examine the different immune molecules and cells which are expressed during the injury response.
Seifert is a big proponent of international research and urges students to take part. He views the experience as a great opportunity to broaden horizons and interact with different cultures.
“In our case, going to a place like Kenya allows us to interact with people from different cultural backgrounds,” Seifert said. “In doing so, we engage in all kinds of discourse, be it politics, research, education, science and the like. Growth is measured in experience and this type of discourse will ultimately enhance a student’s worldview.”
To learn more about Seifert’s developments, visit www.ashleyseifert.com.