Why do finger tips grow back? Looking at the digit tip, we were trying to understand why, if you amputate or remove the very end of your finger, it grows back, but if you go beyond the nail and amputate further than that, it doesn’t. You get this sort of scar tissue. We wanted to understand how this process works and why can the end of the finger regenerate, but not the whole finger, nor a whole limb.
When you cut off the end of the finger and still have part of the nail, this very transient structure forms, which is full of regenerative progenitor cells. However, we didn’t know where they came from, nor what types of cells they could make. We went on to do a big study to characterise them and we found something truly fascinating.
We found that these regenerative progenitor cells come from many different tissues; they come from nerves, they come from bone, all these tissues that are at the site of the injury can contribute cells to help the repair process, and then these cells are able to go back and make the tissue they came from. Some of them are even more special and can make multiple types of different tissues as well. I find this incredibly cool!
Image on the left: Fully regenerated mouse digit after injury
Cambridge is the perfect place to be doing research. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a parallel academic environment where there are so many really clever people who are so willing to collaborate and help colleagues out wherever they can. Everyone is incredibly busy, but extremely generous with their time.
The Research Themes in the School of Biological Sciences have been great for this. We’ve started working on this ‘Complex Tissue Regeneration’ Grand Challenge. It has been fantastic to spearhead this initiative and bring together a lot of different researchers from across the University, who you may not realise work in that area.
I’m also involved in the Early PI Network, which is group of over 50 Principal Investigators who have started their lab in Cambridge in the last five years. There are a lot of challenges for early group leaders and I think this network has been really fantastic in bringing people together to have collective experience on how we can actually address those kinds of challenges. I started attending meetings and ended up being one of the coordinators for the last year.