As injury lawyers, we often see clients with extremely painful nerve damage injuries, perhaps where an injection has been administered incorrectly and a nerve damaged, or where a crush injury has done the same.  The pain can be very severe and hard to manage or treat and these clients have to live with the pain every day. This is not only extremely debilitating, but restrictive in life as well.

Last week, the Times newspaper reported 24 frogs in a Massachusetts,  USA  biology laboratory have been hopping around again having had their legs amputated, but thanks to a combination of drugs and living in “bio-reactor dome” have been able to re-grow the limbs.  It took about 18 months, but now the frogs are leaping about again and swimming in their aquarium.

Some species such as crabs and salamanders have the ability to regenerate limbs as adults. Unfortunately, humans are not one of them. If a limb is amputated, then it remains amputated.  The development of prosthetic limbs has been rapid and exciting and there has been a sea-change in attitudes to those using them.  Instead of being seen as something to be hidden and a disability, the technology of the modern limbs are considered something to be shown off, especially with athletes.

Even if you’re not a fan of that, prosthetic limbs can now be made to look extremely lifelike and in some cases, even implanted with the ability for movements to look even more natural.

But the quest to try and re-grow limbs continues.

All embryos do have the ability to grow limbs from stem cells, even if some of them don’t. The scientists working on this project wanted to try and re-activate that ability as adults where a limb is lost.  Put simply, they wanted to try and find the “key” to re-activate the process –“start the engine”, as they put it and then hopefully let the body take over and continue the process.  Their findings to date were published in the journal “Science Advances”.

What they did, once the amputations had taken place, was place 5 chemicals designed for promoting cell and bone growth over the stumps and then sealed inside a silicon cap called the bio-reactor dome for 24 hours, hoping the cells in the stump would take over and re-grow the limb.

It took rather longer than they were expecting, but after 4 months, changes were shown and after 9 months, there were “finger-like” projections that grew into legs with webbed toes.  At 18 months, they were definite legs; not perfect, but usable legs.

We know there are arguments for and against the use of live animals in any experiments and yes, we wish there was some way science and medicine could move forward without the use of them.  Not least because there is no guarantee that experiments on any live creatures means that humans will react the same way.  There is a drive within science to use the 3 “R’s” -Reduction, Replacement and Refinement, with a view to ending animal use in experiments. Students can now opt out of classes using animal corpses and use computer generations instead.

But for humans, while re-generation of a whole limb may be years away or even not possible, then it is hoped that by increasing our knowledge of nerve cells and the nervous system, people with such conditions as excruciating phantom limb pain after the loss of a limb, or nerve pain after damage to nerves may be helped.

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