The amazing characteristics of reindeer antlers could, one day, lead to scar-free, skin regeneration in humans who have suffered severe injuries and burns, according to Canadian researchers.
Reindeer antlers are covered in velvet – a type of fuzzy, hairy skin – which has the ability to "almost perfectly" regenerate – a characteristic that has not been observed in any other large mammal, Jeff Biernaskie from the University of Calgary told CBC News.
His team are investigating the biology behind this ability with the hope that it could lead to skin regeneration treatments for humans. These could take the form of a topical cream or injectable therapeutic which could accelerate healing.
In their experiments so far, the researchers have found that small wounds on the velvet virtually disappear within a month and become covered in hair, whereas injuries to other parts of the animals' bodies tend to develop into scars.
The antlers themselves also regenerate at an incredibly fast rate. Both male and female reindeer shed their antlers every winter, but will have grown an entirely new pair by summer. In fact, the antlers can increase in size by up to two centimetres every day.
"This is faster than any tumour. This is faster than any other tissue, as far as I know, in the animal kingdom that can grow that quickly, other than potentially in the embryo," Biernaskie explains.
He added that it was surprising such rapid growth could take place without producing tumours. Another reason he is studying the reindeer is to understand how their cells communicate, which could shine a light on how and why cell growth can trigger cancer.
Biernaskie hopes to publish his findings early next year.