Frankie was missing half his face. A fungal infection had come over the little axolotl, a native amphibian of the waterways of Mexico City. But Frankie, along with other axolotls, have a special talent. Veterinarian and axolotl researcher Erika Servín Zamora, who was also Frankie’s caregiver, said she was astounded to see the animal’s remarkable regeneration abilities that she’d read about in her studies.
Despite their somewhat polarising looks, they are of particular interest to scientists hoping that axolotls like Frankie just might teach us humans the regeneration trick someday.
“Scientists are looking to benefit from the regenerative properties of axolotls by applying them to people who are injured in accidents, wars or suffering illness – people who lose limbs,” Servín Zamora said. “Others are looking for ways that axolotl regeneration can benefit human organs, such as by healing the heart or the liver.”
Axolotls are also helping Servín Zamora and other scientists understand the apparent resistance to cancer that all amphibians seem to have. “In 15 years, I have not seen any cases of malignant tumours in axolotls, which is interesting,” she said. “We suspect that their ability to regenerate cells and body parts helps them in that respect.”