Leprosy, also known as Hansens’ disease, is a chronic infection that can affect nerves, skin, and eyes. It used to be a devastating disease that was greatly feared. Nowadays because of medical advances it is easily cured. If it is left untreated it can lead to nerve damage, crippling of hands and feet, paralysis and blindness. This infection is caused by the spreading of the Mycobacterium leprae, but this bacterium has also the power to convert a type of bodily tissues into another.
Also after realising that other animals such as armadillos are also capable of catching the disease, experiments were performed to study their liver’s reaction to the infection. According to results published in Cell Reports Medicine, the liver was almost doubled in size, while still being completely functional and healthy. The bacteria is apparently reversing the ageing of liver cells taking them from adulthood back to developing stage, where they are capable of rapidly reproducing, when analysing different parts of the cells’ DNA it was closer to the one of a younger animal or even a foetus, in a stage when the liver is still forming.
There is still no scientific consensus on how this process functions, however the Nobel Prize-winning research shows that it is possible to forcibly rejuvenate cells, regaining the ability to become any other type of cell in the body. Although there are potential benefits, the new process could have many downsides and hold a major risk, the possibility of turning them cancerous. That is why using the leprosy bacterium can turn out to be a much safer and natural path being that the cells in the armadillo’s are not defective or cancerous.
Overall this can help develop a new technology that would allow us to repair human livers, which could, for example, aid people that are currently waiting for a transplant, and give us the ability to repair the damage cause by ageing in the liver and in other parts of the body According to Professor Rambukkana "The dream is to use the same bacterial strategy, to use the ingenuity of bacteria to generate new medicines for regeneration and repair,". This still remains untested but could be the path for new therapeutic approaches to the treatment of liver diseases like cirrhosis. The research has been done in armadillos so it still remains unclear how well this would work in a human liver.