Scientists have discovered a new method of skin cell regeneration which will eliminate scars, something that was previously believed to be impossible.
A commonly known fact is that scar tissue is very different from normal skin tissue. This is due to the fact that scar tissue does not contain any fat cells or hair follicles, as all normal skin cells do.
However, scientists have discovered a concept which can help fresh skin wounds to heal as normal, regenerated skin cells, as opposed to the standard scar tissue which often follows after a skin injury. This is a huge revelation, as it was previously believed to be impossible to produce ordinary skin cells following an injury in mammals.
A member of the research team, George Cotsarelis, who is chair of the Department of Dermatology at the University of Pennsylvania, said, “essentially, we can manipulate wound healing so that it leads to skin regeneration rather than scarring. The secret is to regenerate hair follicles first. After that, the fat will regenerate in response to the signals from those follicles.”
The skin that normally grows over a superficial cut is full of fat cells which are called adipocytes, this means that these regenerated skin cells are similar to the ones that babies are born with, will eventually blend into the normal skin cells once the wound has healed, leading them to be undetectable as new skin.
In contrast to this, scar tissue is made up of completely different cells which are called myofibroblasts, and do not contain any fat cells at all. This results in the formation of scar tissue as these myofibroblasts do not blend in with normal surrounding skin cells, resulting in a completely different appearance.
A comparison can be drawn between this and skin ageing, which is a result of the loss of adipocytes, and is what leads the ageing skin to discolouration and deep wrinkles which are physical changes that cannot be fully reversed.
However, scientists have now discovered that the myofibroblasts in skin which contain no fat cells can actually be turned into adipocytes, meaning that as a fresh wound is healing what would be scar tissue can now be converted into regenerated skin. This phenomenon was previously believed to only be possible in fish and amphibians.
Maksim Plikus, a team member from the University of California, Irvine, said, “the findings show we have a window of opportunity after wounding to influence the tissue to regenerate rather than scar”.
Previous research conducted by the team has shown that fat cells and hair follicles develop separately in regenerating skin, although the hair follicles always develop first, leading researchers to believe that the hair follicles actually assist the growth of the fat cells, as the two do not grow independently from each other.
After discovering this, the researchers were curious to find out what would happen if they induced hair follicles to grow in newly forming scar tissue, by testing this on mice and lab-grown human skin samples.
This is an act would never naturally occur, as it has been previously discovered that there are no hair follicles in scar tissue.
The results proved that the hair follicles immediately released a signalling protein called Bone Morphogenetic Protein (BMP) when they began forming, which in turn converted the scar tissue’s myofibroblasts into adipocytes.
This newly regenerated skin was found to be indistinguishable from the surrounding normal skin cells.
Cotsarelis commented, “typically, myofibroblasts were thought to be incapable of becoming a different type of cell. But our work shows we have the ability to influence these cells, and that they can be efficiently and stably converted into adipocytes.”
If the scientific team can produce the same positive results in a human trial by understanding how to manipulate the Bone Morphogenetic Protein in scar tissue, then scars could be a thing of the past.
You can read more about the research conducted in Science.
IMAGE CREDIT:paisan191 / 123RF Stock Photo
About The Author
Jess Murray is a wildlife filmmaker and conservation blogger, having recently returned from studying wildlife and conservation in South Africa, she is now striving to spread awareness about the truth behind faux conservation facilities throughout the world. You can follow Jess on Facebook Here
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