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Last Updated: Tuesday, 22 January 2008, 02:12 GMT
Gel 'to speed up wound healing'
Scarred hand
Scarring can be both disfiguring and debilitating
A gel to speed up wound healing and reduce scarring is being developed by UK scientists.

It works by suppressing a key gene, boosting blood supply, and altering the way new tissue is laid down.

The researchers say it may aid not just surface injuries, but also people who suffer internal organ tissue damage through illness or abdominal surgery.

The University of Bristol research appears in the Journal of Experimental Medicine.

Scarring is a natural part of tissue repair.

While it is most obvious on the skin, it can also occur in many other tissues in the body, where it can have serious consequences.

For instance, scarring of the liver following alcohol-induced damage can be fatal, and scars caused by abdominal surgery can often lead to major complications.

Inflammatory response

The first stage of wound healing involves an inflammatory response, stimulating white blood cells to migrate to the site of injury, and kill off potentially disease-causing microbes.

The same white cells guide the production of layers of a fibrous substance called collagen.

These layers of collagen help the wound heal but, because they are not laid down in the same way as tissue when it is first created, they stand out from the surrounding tissue and result in scarring.

The Bristol team discovered that a single gene called osteopontin plays a key role in controlling this process - and developed a gel that suppresses this action.

They found that once the gel was applied, the speed of regeneration of blood vessels around the wound, and the rate of tissue reconstruction were both accelerated.

In addition, deposition of collagen layers was more controlled - resulting in less scarring.

Researcher Professor Paul Martin said: "White blood cells (macrophages), and the chemical signals (PDGF) delivered to the wound cells, and osteopontin itself are now all clear targets for developing medicines to improve healing of skin wounds and other organs where fibrotic tissue repair can be debilitating.

"We hope that it won't be too long before such therapies are available in the clinic."

Earlier research by Professor Martin's lab and others has shown that embryos of many species, including humans, heal wounds without leaving a scar.

Dr Jeff Hart, director of Cica Biomedical Ltd, and a contributor to the Journal of Wound Care, said: "There are all kinds of examples of problems with scarring in the clinical arena, and any therapy that could alleviate, or even eradicate, scarring would be fantastic."

Professor Enrique Amaya, a tissue regeneration expert at Manchester University, said: "The next step will be to find a pharmaceutical drug which can do the same thing as this gel is doing."

SEE ALSO
Artificial skin 'cuts scarring'
26 Jun 07 |  Health

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