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Saturday, 1 July, 2000, 23:11 GMT 00:11 UK
'Active' dressings could speed healing
Wounds that will not heal are a headache for doctors
Researchers are hoping to develop a dressing which would actively stimulate the skin to heal its wounds.

The University of Dundee project is still at its early stages, but has received a 300,000 grant to carry on the work.

Slow-healing wounds cost the health service millions each year in extra nursing care and treatment, as well as causing great suffering to the patient.

The elderly and diabetics, because of poor circulation, are particularly prone to wounds which never seem to get any better.

Normal wound healing is carried out by a process of "cell activation" - cells wake up and work to repair the wound, then switch off and return to their original resting state.

If either of these processes goes wrong, then the wound either fails to heal, or there is extensive scarring.

The Dundee team has discovered molecules which appear to have an effect on the wound.

The first, called MSF, is naturally produced by cells in normal healing wounds.

It appears to stimulate the migration of cells to the wound and blood vessel formation, all things which speed up the healing process.

Cancer worry

If extra MSF could be introduced to the wound, it might have a similar effect.

The problem with MSF is that, if persistently present, it appears to be able to contribute to cancer tumour growth.

The other key molecule discovered is an inhibitor of MSF, which can stop this effect.

Dr Ana Schor, leading the project with her husband Professor Seth Schor, said: "Taken together, these molecules represent a hitherto unrecognised and physiologically relevant system regulating the balance between stimulation and inhibition of cell migration and new blood vessel formation."

Although the project is still in its early stages, the eventual aim may be to impregnate dressings with a treatment to increase the amount of MSF in a wound, or the MSF inhibitor.

The team has found a third molecule which may produce the same effect as MSF, but is much smaller, so consequently much easier to manufacture.

It is hoped that any dressing produced might also be able to help children with a condition called epidermolysis bullosa (EB).

This is an illness which can leave the child with terribly blistered skin.

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