When doctors decided on a treatment for Mandy Sellars’ condition, she secretly knew it would only be a matter of time before her large leg began to grow back again. But while the idea of regenerating a limb may sound good, in the case of Mandy it was a nightmare waiting to happen.
Seplicaemea is a rare medical condition where a human limb grows to an unusual size. if left unchecked, the limb may grow so large that it could kill the patient. And so when doctors told Mandy her leg was soon going to be a danger to her, she agreed to have the operation that cut it from her body. But as with many ailments, when she left the doctors office she still had doubts that the end of her battle was over. And sure enough, the limb began regenerating once again. Seplicaemea can in some rare cases continue even after amputation – rare enough that though Mandy was not surprised her doctors certainly were.
The ailment has affected Mandy’s quality of life and threatens to affect even more if something is not done. And while doctors are still trying to figure out what the best course of action is to take next, she is still defiantly saying she will not let this overwhelm her life, instead promising herself that she will keep going.
Illnesses of this unusual variety are often a way for biologists to look into the stranger elements of the human experience. Though we may not all have the ability to regenerate limbs, and it may sound like a superpower, the condition does not always show up in quite the same way as we may expect under ideal conditions. But research into diseases such as the one Mandy is suffering from may one day unlock some of the questions we have about these biological vehicles we all use from day to day. And in so doing, may one day provide new ways of improving them.
Regeneration does happen, for example, in starfish and lizards quite commonly. But it’s rare in mammals – generally only coming as a specific genetic disorder. DNA is commonly considered a primary culprit. Proteus syndrome, which is an illness similar to seplicaemea, is thought to be the condition that afflicted people such as “The Elephant Man,” who lived in the 19th century. A film of the same name directed by David Lynch is our primary connection to this ailment in popular culture. In the film we see the struggle of a man who wishes only to be treated as a human being as he attempts to put the pieces of his life together while living with an overwhelming illness.
What causes illnesses like this one? Is there a secret component in them that suggests the phenomenon could be utilized once again to help rather than hinder peoples’ mobility? Will science one day unlock this and other secrets on our long journey toward the ultimate realization of humanity’s full potential? Perhaps in time we will know. In the mean time, we can only hope the cure comes soon.