Healing Wounds Without Scarring

Reprogramming new hair follicles and fat cells enables skin regeneration without scarring, according to new research 

When wounded beyond a certain level skin typically takes the faster route to cover the lesion, but in doing so leaves scar tissue. Whether scar tissue is aesthetically desirable or not, it performs its job poorly in comparison to normal skin, and so developing ways to encourage healthy skin renewal is important - especially in the case of burn victims. Fat cells are normally not present in scar tissue, despite being a regular component of normal skin. Hair follicles are also absent in scars, and new research has discovered a connection between follicle growth, fat cells and skin regeneration. 

"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"

Triggering regeneration

Work by scientists published in Science has revealed that hair follicle growth and fat cells differentiation are intricately linked. Previous research had revealed the necessary factors required to trigger new hair follicle differentiation, but interestingly once formed, these follicles then emit chemical signals leading to fat formation. The latest study delved deeper in which signals were able to trigger fat cell growth, and they narrowed down the culprits to Bone Morphogenetic Protein (BMP), which appears sufficient to transform ordinary myofibroblast cells into adipocytes (fat cells). 

Comparison of wounds healing with and without hair follicles. Credit: Penn Medicine

"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. The findings show we have a window of opportunity after wounding to influence the tissue to regenerate rather than scar"

 

This research suggests that the key factor in skin renewal is fat cell content, and that BMP may be the key to accomplishing this. BMP is an extremely important signalling molecule across the body and plays a crucial role in embryonic development, so it's perhaps unsurprising that it acts as such a potent differentiation signal in skin fibroblasts. While the research was primarily directed at scar formation, it actually has a number of other potential uses too. HIV patients typically have significant subcutaneous fat loss as a result of certain anti-retroviral drugs, and the aging process depletes fat stores in skin - leading to dysfunctional structure and wrinkles. Replenishing these stores may therefore rejuvenate skin.

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