MDI Biological Laboratory

Restoring the Ability to Repair and Regenerate As We Age

  • December 12, 2019


“If everything regenerated, there would be no death.”

Richard J. Goss, Ph.D.
Principles of Regeneration

Richard J. Goss, Ph.D., author of Principles of Regeneration, was a visiting scientist at the MDI Biological Laboratory in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. But is the statement that there would be no death if everything regenerated correct?

The zebrafish, which can regenerate many tissues and organs, has a lifespan of about four years, while the goldfish – a similar species that lacks powers of regeneration – can live for 40 years or more. This would suggest that regeneration and extended lifespan do not go hand in hand. 

On the other hand, as anyone who has been young can attest, the young heal wounds, mend broken bones and recover from illnesses faster than adults, suggesting that aging is linked to a decline in regenerative ability. 

Unraveling the knotty and perplexing relationship between regeneration and aging was the task of scientists from around the world who participated in the MDI Biological Laboratory’s first course on the interface between these fields in July. 

The course, entitled Immersion in Comparative Aging and Regenerative Biology (iCARB), was followed by a symposium on the same subject last October. In offering the course and symposium, the MDI Biological Laboratory drew on the strength acquired from over a decade of research in regeneration and aging to stake out a leadership position at the interface of these areas. The goal: to reset the aging clock by developing therapies that stimulate human regenerative ability.

“Other species have the capacity to withstand the ravages of aging by regenerating lost or damaged tissues,” said Nadia Rosenthal, Ph.D., F.Med.Sci. “Just because humans can’t do it now doesn’t mean we won’t be able to achieve that regenerative capacity. It’s possible that we can apply knowledge learned from these species to our own bodies.”

Regenerative medicine and the end of aging


Rosenthal, scientific director at The Jackson Laboratory and a guest speaker at the iCARB course, made her remarks in a lecture entitled “Regenerative Medicine and the End of Aging,” which could also have been the theme of the course. 

Though enormous advances have been made in regenerative biology and aging biology, these fields have for the most part been operating in separate silos. The course offered the first opportunity in the world to unite them in the context of comparative biology, which draws on comparisons across species to address fundamental biological questions. 

The driving force behind the need to study this interface is the development of new therapies to stimulate regenerative ability and to delay aging, which raises the question of how these therapies will interact. The discovery at the MDI Biological Laboratory of a new regenerative medicine drug candidate, MSI-1436 or trodusquemine, which is now in pre-clinical development, makes it a natural setting for such a course. 

“Many anti-aging drugs are now in development, but medicine lacks a pro-regeneration therapy,” said laboratory scientist and course co-director Aric Rogers, Ph.D. “As far as I know, MSI-1436 is the only game in town – nobody else has anything like it. This gives us a unique opportunity to distinguish ourselves by exploring how new regenerative medicine therapies and anti-aging therapies will work with one another.”

In addition to “nexus” experiments in model organisms such as those exploring how MSI-1436 influences aging, the course included guest lectures by leading scientists in regeneration and aging from around the world, “pit talks” on laboratory techniques and – perhaps most importantly – ample time for students to explore the interface between these fields in think tank-type sessions.

“I was amazed at the questions that emerged,” said Voot Yin, Ph.D., laboratory scientist and course co-director. “They were questions that haven’t been asked – or if they have, that no one has addressed. The freedom to focus on provocative questions in the kind of informal, intimate setting afforded by a small institution such as the MDI Biological Laboratory can be a major contributor to scientific discovery.”