The W.M. Keck Foundation’s latest $1 million grant will pursue healing human wounds without scarring, using a species of African mouse with a singular talent for making injuries vanish. Keck gravitates toward transformative research ideas in their infancy, so this supervillain origin story in the making is a perfect fit.
Two biology researchers at the University of Florida Genetics Institute just received the seven-figure grant for work that focuses on the African spiny mouse, the only known mammal that can regenerate its skin completely without scars, hair and all. Professor Malcolm Maden and Associate Professor William Barbazuk will be the first the study the mouse's healing, and will look on a cellular level at the process to learn what genes might unlock the ability.
While this is the first close look at mammalian healing without scarring, Maden previously researched regenerative talents of various other animals, like limb and tail regrowth in certain lizards. Learning how this remarkable ability might apply to humans could hold tremendous potential in medicine, not only reducing complications in fresh, healing wounds, but also preventing the psychological trauma that follows severe scarring from injuries like burns.
Of course, such treatments are years away, as this line of research is in extremely early stages—exactly the kind of project W.M. Keck Foundation tends to support. The large science funder targets work that is potentially transformative and high-risk, then gives it an injection of serious funds, typically at least $1 million. The funder tries to back projects that would otherwise not have much hope of securing support, as they pursue edgy or unexplored ideas.
Through two programs—Science and Engineering and Medical Research—Keck gives around $50 million annually to a relatively small number of grantees. The foundation made news recently as one of the funders involved with the BICEP2 discovery that confirmed the cosmic inflation theory of the Big Bang.
Grants are competitive, but this isn’t the first for the University of Florida’s Genetics Institute. In 2012, researchers at the center nabbed another $1 million for the study of inherited disease, and a theory that challenged conventional ideas of how cell proteins are involved in their development.