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Wolverine’s Healing Power, Coming Soon to a Pharmacy Near You

As any of the X-Men can tell you, it ain’t easy being a mutant. But if you have an ability like Wolverine‘s — which heals all his nicks, scrapes and abrasions — well, life gets a little more manageable. (This is one guy who never needs to worry about cutting himself shaving.) That’s why scientists are hard at work finding ways for us non-Homo Superiors to enjoy Wolvie’s regenerative mojo — and now, it seems, they’ve succeeded.

Dr. Ning Zhang, an assistant professor of bioengineering at South Carolina’s Clemson University, has developed a hydrogel that’s proved successful in treating traumatic brain injury in rats. To test the substance, she bopped rats on the head, inflicting damage similar to what a person would sustain in a bad car wreck. Then she injected a liquid into the wound site that contained three neural growth factors. Once inside the body, the liquid became a gel that spurred the creation of new blood vessels and caused the rats’ stem cells to form new neurons. (The gel, it seems, shares Mystique’s shape-shifting mutation.) The process isn’t nearly as fast as Wolverine’s speedy healing — recovery took twelve-ish weeks — but the rats did regain nearly all their original faculties.

The nanoparticle-enhanced substance shows great promise for the treatment of wounds suffered in combat, and the “strategy can also potentially be applied to head injuries caused by car accidents, falls and gunshot wounds,” says Zhang. That’s good news for anyone popped in the forehead by an trigger-happy cop, as Wolverine was in X2: X-Men United. But it’s still doubtful the average joe would be able to just squirt the bullet back out, miracle gel or not. Zhang also modified the hydrogel and set it to work healing bones — a wonderful advancement for those of us whose skeletons are not made of adamantium.

Meanwhile, gels all over the world are being appropriated to mimic Wolverine’s mutant mending: Over in India, scientists have harnessed the power of the nanoparticle to create an antimicrobial gel that’s very useful in treating burns — a fine thing to have handy if Pyro loses control and starts spewing flames all over the place. At Harvard University, David Weitz and his colleagues created an “active gel” made of muscle proteins, which could eventually be used in tissue engineering (no more nasty claw scratches); and a team of researchers from Barrow Neurological Institute, Purdue University and Arizona State University demonstrated a biomaterial gel, comprised primarily of hyaluronic acid, that helps heal spinal cord injuries. This could be a lifesaver — literally — during those knock-down drag-out fights against Sabretooth.

Indeed, one day in the not-so-distant future we all may have access to Wolverine’s gift of rejuvenation. Until then, let’s hope Magneto keeps his minions at bay.

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