'Amazing Spider-Man's' Lizard: Science Fiction or Science Fact?
Scientists are experimenting with regrowing limbs like the villain in this summer's Marvel Comics blockbuster.
A professor of regenerative medicine at Wake Forest says the Lizard, the villain in The Amazing Spider-Man who regenerates a limb by mixing human and reptile DNA may be more science fact than science fiction.
"We’re working on long-term projects to regenerate fingers and limbs," says Dr. Koudy Williams, a professor at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center’s Institute for Regenerative Medicine. “But we have safer ways to do it than the researchers in Spider-Man.”
In the movie, Rhys Ifans plays Dr. Curt Connors, the one-armed man who mutates into the villain the Lizarda after using the animal's DNA to mimic its ability to heal itself and re-grow damaged or missing body parts. Stan Lee and Steve Ditko dreamed up the character for The Amazing Spider-Man #6 in 1963, as a part of the Marvel Comics universe.
"This is most like what scientists in the Spider-Man movie were doing. Our projects include evaluating the use of natural materials to speed up nerve regeneration, heal diseased kidneys and improve one of the current options for heart valve replacement," said Williams.
And while Williams and his team aren’t necessarily flying from building to building suspended from spider webs, they are utilizing silk found in spider’s webs for experimental purposes, like engineering blood vessels. They’re also about to start a "long-term project to re-grow fingers and lungs to help wounded military personnel."
But patients needn’t worry about mutations or scientists gone rogue. Williams is quick to confirm that there’s still a lot of fiction in the Amazing Spider-Man. "We do study the regenerative abilities of salamanders and other animals and we try to harness the body’s innate ability to regenerate itself. But we would never combine human and animal genes – we have much safer methods."
Though he doesn’t have the first Spider-Man comic book he once owned as boy anymore, Willliams has the science-fiction stories to thank for helping him tackle difficulties with reading in grade school. Said the doctor, "As a child, I always wanted to be Spider-Man. But now I have the next-best thing. I’m a researcher who uses some of the same technology as Spider-Man."
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