Cancer rightly gets bad press, but sometimes scientists take a leaf out of its book of tricks. Neuroscientists desperate to coax stubborn neurons [nerve cells] to re-grow (here nuclei of mouse neurons are shown in yellow, and their axons with hair-like projections in blue) hit on the idea that they could copy cancer by releasing temporarily a natural brake that stops cells multiplying. Normal cells secrete a protein called Rb that acts as a brake, but which in cancer is blocked letting cells run riot. And sure enough, when Rb was cut in nerve cells they grew much faster. Half of all diabetics suffer from some nerve damage, or neuropathy, where cut connections between neurons can cause pain, tingling, numbness, and poor limb coordination. Getting nerves to grow back where you want them offers hope that the condition will in future be reversible.
Written by Tristan Farrow
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