For many years, medical doctors and research scientists believed the human brain had a limited capacity to undergo self-renewal as it aged, where unlike other organs of the body, loss of a cell to death or damage is not followed by growth of replacements. But according to a recently-released study, the neurons making up the bulk of the brain might actually be replenished well into adulthood. As such, perhaps the public service messages advising people that you only get a fixed amount of brain cells and therefore should not use illicit drugs and alcohol because they kill neurons may be in error.

To better understand the research and its significance, here is some background information on the architecture of the human brain.

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In what’s being hailed as a world first in regenerative medicine, five children have received new ears grown from their own cells.

The children, living in China and ranging from age 6 to 10, were all born with microtia, a birth defect where at least one ear is underdeveloped. Traditional treatments for the condition involve either surgically attaching a synthetic ear or forming an ear from cartilage harvested from the patient’s ribs.

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Matthew Vickaryous/Vickaryous Lab/University of Guelph

While broken bones can mend and torn tissue can regrow, if humans lose a limb, we live with that for the rest of our lives. And when we suffer a spinal injury, the cord never heals — but maybe it could. Researchers at the University of Guelph in Canada are studying the regenerative abilities of gecko lizards, which are able to regrow lost tails, with the hope they will discover new and better ways for humans to heal themselves.

If this seems like an idea plucked from science fiction or a comic book, that’s because it is. Fictional character Doctor Curt Connors, an antagonist and sometimes ally to Peter Parker’s Spider-Man, injected himself with a lizard serum in the hopes of regrowing his amputated arm. Instead, he cursed himself with a Jekyll-Hyde existence, transforming into a monstrous and hungry humanoid lizard. Fortunately, the real-life science of lizard regeneration is far less dramatic and far more promising.

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