Deer antler renewal Dr Chunyi Li with red deer Dr Chunyi Li with red deer
Dr Chunyi Li’s work on deer antler renewal is an intended model for tissue and organ regeneration in other species, including humans.
Deer antlers are shed and replaced every year, and undergo a rate of growth – up to 2cm per day - which can only be paralleled by plants. It is the only example of a renewing organ in mammals.
The best case study for comparison is the newt, an amphibian with the ability to regrow an exact replica limb in the event that one is lost. By contrast other mammals, such as the mouse used for study, are not able to regrow an amputated limb despite the similarity to the deer antler renewal process in the early stages of healing.
The explanation lies in stem cells located in the periosteum at the site of regrowth. Without these stem cells the regrowth does not occur, but with replication of the cells and their niche the regrowth can be simulated ectopically in another location.
As a collaboration with Lincoln University, an in vitro system has been established to mimic the deer antler stem cell environment.