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Last Updated: Monday, 2 June, 2003, 23:33 GMT 00:33 UK
Mice offer wound healing clues
leg ulcer
Leg ulcers are a serious problem for diabetics
Scientists are hoping that experiments on genetically-modified mice will produce ways to make human wounds heal better.

They believe they have found a genetic "pathway" which is crucial in the complex process of healing.

Drugs that boost healing would have the most impact on patients with severe burns, and diabetes who suffer slow-healing leg and foot ulcers after even the most trivial cuts.

The continuing increase in the number of people in the western world suffering from adult-onset diabetes means that these problems - which can lead to amputations in the worst cases - are placing an increasing strain on health systems.

However, doctors are stressing that drugs to help these patients may be some time away.

The researchers, from the University of California in San Diego, wanted to test whether a gene called "c-Jun" was important in the healing processes employed by mammals.

Experiments on fruit flies have already revealed it importance to the process in these insects - and many fruit fly genes have can also be found in "higher" animals, including humans, often with corresponding roles.

Mouse problem

When mice lacking this gene were bred by scientists, it had a dramatic effect on their ability to heal wounds.

In mammals, wound healing is a complex process which starts when a clot forms over the injury.

Gradually, cells "migrate" into the clot to close the wound.

However, in the mice lacking the gene, the skin cells needed to close the wound appeared to be produced, but instead of heading into the clot, they "bunched up" at the edges of the wound.

The wounds were far slower to heal in these mice.

Surgery hope

Scientists believe that if they can somehow find a drug that boosts the "c-Jun pathway", wound healing in humans could be made more efficient.

Dr Randall Johnson, who led the study, said: "We demonstrated in our experiments that the loss of this protein in the skin of mice causes cells to bunch up at the leading edge of a wound, much like water rushing into a kerb.

"If we can eventually design drugs to promote this chemical pathway, surgeons will be able to improve the recovery of their patients and the increasing number of diabetics in this country will be able to improve their ability to heal from cuts and lacerations."

The study was published in the journal Developmental Cell.

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