Scientists have found a new way to treat skin wounds without the use of surgery, by tricking skin cells into becoming the type of cells that heal broken skin.
Skin wounds and ulcers can be very painful and, when left untreated, can lead to life-threatening infection. The body attempts to heal itself when the skin surface is broken by moving epithelial cells – making up the outermost layer of skin – towards the wound in order to seal it. This process is less efficient in bigger wounds though, and particularly less effective in older patients. Other treatments are therefore needed, which are usually surgical, such as skin grafts.
New research published in Nature was conducted by scientists at the Salk Institute, California, looking at the use of a genetic technique called cellular reprogramming. The technique involves injecting viruses into the cells of non-healing ulcers to force non-epithelial skin cell types to turn them into healing epithelial cells. When this technique was performed in wounded mice, the new cells healed injuries in the mice within around 28 days.
New research published in Nature was conducted by scientists at the Salk Institute, California, looking at the use of a genetic technique called cellular reprogramming
The development of this technology is, however, in its very early stages. It would act as a kind of gene therapy by introducing viruses in order to reprogrammed cells inside a wound or ulcer. Before this method could be used clinically, tests for long-term safety must be undertaken – the authors acknowledge that this work is only the beginning of what will be a long journey towards the common use of gene therapy for wound healing. Additionally, virus production is currently expensive, but it is hoped that costs would fall as production and demand increases.
Regardless, these findings are promising and have been described as a “significant contribution” to the field. This new technology offers a potential way forward for non-surgical treatment of wounds and ulcers –when fully developed, it might offer a simpler, faster alternative to wound healing compared to surgical skin transplants or skin artificial skin grafts. The researchers also hope that the technology could be extended to other disease situations where tissue homeostasis and repair are impaired and that further development will see a drop in the time taken for wounds to heal.