Researchers say the method could potentially pave the way for revolutionary new anti-aging treatments
Scientist have discovered a potential new way to heal wounds that could make scarring a thing of the past.
While the Method will not be able to help with existing scars, researchers believe they have figured out how to make fresh wounds heal as normal, regenerated skin - instead of the usual scar tissue
The method involves transforming the most common type of cells found in wounds into fat cells - a feat that was previously thought to be impossible in mammals.
“Essentially, we can manipulate wound healing so that it leads to skin regeneration rather than scarring,” said Dr George Cotsarelis, chair of the Department of Dermatology at the University of Pennsylvania.
The researchers said fat cells called adipocytes are normally found in the skin - but are lost when wounds heal as scars.
Scar tissue is made up almost entirely of cells called myofibroblasts and doesn't contain any fat cells at all.
As a result once a wound has fully healed the scar tissue is left with an abnormal appearance permanently different from the rest of the skin.
Scar tissue also does not have any hair follicles associated with it - another factor that makes it look different from the rest of the skin.
The researchers have now discovered that existing myofibroblasts can actually be converted into adipocytes - meaning that as a wound is healing, scar tissue could potentially be converted to regenerated skin instead.
The study showed that once the fats are converted, the new cells are, “indistinguishable from the pre-existing fat cells, giving the healed wound a natural look instead of leaving a scar.”
“The secret is to regenerate hair follicles first. After that, the fat will regenerate in response to the signals from those follicles,” said Dr Cotsarelis.
Revolutionary anti-aging treatments
He said the discovery has the potential to be revolutionary in the field of dermatology - however the increase of fat cells in tissue could also be helpful for more than just wounds.
Adipocyte cells are also lost naturally because of the aging process, especially in the face, which leads to permanent, deep wrinkles - something anti-aging treatments can’t fix in a cosmetically satisfactory way.
“Our findings can potentially move us toward a new strategy to regenerate adipocytes in wrinkled skin, which could lead us to brand new anti-aging treatments,” said Dr Cotsarelis.
The researchers said adipocyte regeneration could also have applications for the treatment of HIV.
For now however, the experiment is still at the proof of concept stage. It has been shown to work in mice and human skin samples - however achieving the same results in a living human being will provide the next challenge.
The research was published in the journal Science.