If you cut your arm off, it’s going to stay off. The pain will probably teach you not to cut your arm off again, and you go away from the experience a better person. For some comic book characters, it doesn’t exactly happen that way. While they may feel pain, they heal and regenerate limbs at an astounding rate and walk away with a new, better arm. Superhealing.
For now, we’re going to focus on two superheroes that have gotten a lot of notoriety lately: one has several movies about him (okay, they’re about the X-Men, but let’s be honest, they were Wolverine movies) and one has a movie that’s coming up soon.
Wolverine and Deadpool.
Deadpool first appeared in a comic in 1990. After having contracted a terminal illness, he was brought into the Weapon X program. They implemented a healing factor that not only stopped the illness, but granted him superhuman healing abilities. Deadpool’s had his heart removed, been decapitated, been every sort of ‘injured’ you could imagine – and he’s fine, albeit with a terribly scared body and face. He’s colloquially known as the ‘Merc with a Mouth’ for his wisecracking humor and he frequently breaks the 4th wall in comics. He’s not exactly a hero, not exactly a villain; generally, he’s referred to as an antihero.
Wolverine appeared just a little earlier in 1974. In the X-Men universe, most mutants are born with their superpowers, as Wolverine was born with the claws. Like Deadpool, he was also taken into the Weapon X program where he had his skeleton grafted to adamantium in order to make him indestructible. This is also where he got his healing ability. It’s not quite as potent as Deadpool’s ability, but Deadpool’s ability was derived from the Wolverine’s Project X’s treatment.
Hyperhealing. So, let’s start with your basic boo-boos and how they’re healed.
You get a cut and your body leaps into action. Blood will be restricted to the wounded area in order to reduce bleeding. Certain blood vessels are dilated to allow antibodies, white blood cells, and other cells to get to the wounded area in order to eat any bacteria that might have gotten in. This phase is called the inflammatory phase, named mostly because you can see signs of inflammation there (warmth, color changes, pain, swelling).
After about a day, it goes into the epithelialization phase. Keratinocytes perform a proliferation cycle and cover the wound starting at the edges. Next comes the proliferative phase: basically, filling in the wound. New blood vessels form (angiogenesis), eventually forming granulation tissue. Collagen begins to be deposited on the top, which forms your scar.
Finally, we have remodeling phase. This entire process depends on how bad your wound is, but remodeling phase can take several years. Overall, it’s just increasing the strength and integrity of the skin.
So, basically? Wolverine and Deadpool can do that really fast. Younger people’s wounds heal faster. The reconstruction process also does better with a warm and moist wound. Is there anything that heals you as fast as Wolverine or Deadpool? Probably not, but still make sure to keep your wounds clean!
Another one of Deadpool’s more fantastic abilities is regeneration. Cut off an arm, tear out his heart, and it’ll fix itself. Eventually.
Something like that actually happens, and you’ve probably already thought of it. We’re looking at some more cool animals.
The axolotl has started to gain popularity on the Internet, similar to the platypus’ short reign. I can’t exactly complain. It’s a cute thing. Aside from being a cute little guy, the axolotl also has a characteristic common in all Urodele amphibians (see: Salamanders). Not only can he regenerate, but he does it better than all other salamanders. They can regenerate limbs, jaws, spine, skin, tails over the course of a few weeks. How?
It kind of relates back to how we take care of our own wounds. Macrophages (types of blood white cell that eats debris) go to the wounded area and eat all the bacteria there first. The open wound is covered, and then fibroblasts gather just beneath the surface of the wound.
The cool thing about fibroblasts is that they’re unspecialized and can become loads of different types of cells: which is why they can recreate different body parts, like the tail or the spine. A blastemal develops from the cluster of fibroblasts and that structure will eventually become whatever body part they need.
Sort of the human equivalent to this are stem cells: cells that can take on the functions of other cells. There are a few ‘flavors’ of stem cells, including embryonic stem cells that can take on the function of almost any cell, and somatic/adult stem cells, which can only become just a few different types (usually depending on the type of tissue it’s found in!).
This science has really been booming lately. They’ve ‘grown’ organs, noses, windpipes, ears, blood vessels, tear ducts – it’s not a perfect science yet by a long shot; the replicas aren’t exactly the same as the original. Still, the idea of being able to grow an entire functioning liver from a few stem cells is really fascinating.
Could stem cell growth happen independently of a lab (and even subconsciously on a person) a la Deadpool and Wolverine? Well, no. But it’s interesting to see that we are able to regrow things, even if it’s currently very experimental. The thought of being able to regrow organs for people who need it (without waiting on a donor) would be revolutionary.
Regeneration is associated with a particular personality type: recklessness. It’s instinct to avoid reactions that could endanger and hurt you, but that instinct is generally revoked once being permanently hurt is not an option. They’ll go into battles with impossible odds, taunt dangerous people, and generally not worry about their own safety. This lends itself perfectly to the reckless persona.
It’s an interesting superpower, mainly because it still requires a certain amount of gumption on the part of the superperson to do what they do. Many superheroes seem thrust into their roles through their powers (it’s hard for Cyclops, for instance, to be a normal man with a normal life). Regeneration, however, is a passive power. It doesn’t do anything to make a comic book character a hero. Instead, the power allows a person to survive long enough to be one.
Marvel History, marvel.com
Visual History, Variant Comics
Marvel History, marvel.com
Visual History, Variant Comics
General Overview of Wound Healing, nlm.nih.gov
Phases of Wound Healing, clinimed.co.uk
Wound Healing and Repair, emedicine.medscape.com
Wound Care, atitesting.com
Missing Parts? Salamander Regeneration Secret Revealed, livescience.com
Limb Regeneration? Do Salamander Hold the Key, ucl.ac.uk
Regeneration: The axolotl story, Scientific American
What Are Stem Cells?, stemcellss.nih.gov
Stem Cell Info, medicalnewstoday.com
Types of Stem Cells, news-medical.net
Stem Cell Transplant, mayoclinic.org
Liver Regeneration, hsci.harvard.edu
Nose & Ears & Tear Ducts, medicaldaily.com