Have you ever stopped to think about how miraculous the human body really is? Each component in the body works in different ways to heal itself, sustain functionality and maintain its own lifecycle. The skin can heal the most horrific wounds leaving only scar tissue after it heals. Although it is effective mechanism, scar tissue is not visually appealing. Luckily, the possibility of scar-less wounds is making headlines thanks to to a recent study by The Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania
The University conducted a study using mice and human skin samples to do what was previously believed to be impossible. The team of scientists is confident that they discovered a means that allows skin to regenerate using fat cells. “Essentially, we can manipulate wound healing so that it leads to skin regeneration rather than scarring,” stated George Cotsarelis, MD, the Milton Bixler Hartzell Professor of Dermatology at Penn and chief investigator of the project.
Adipocytes are fat cells which are normally found in the skin but are lost when wounds heal as scars. Consequently, the most common cells found in the tissue during wound healing are myofibroblasts which are thought to only create scar tissue. Researchers also know that scar tissue does not have any hair follicles which gives it an atypical appearance from healthy skin. The research team used these distinctive features as the foundation for their thesis to manipulate the myofibroblasts into fat cells that won’t cause scarring. “Typically, myofibroblasts were thought to be incapable of becoming a different type of cell,” Cotsarelis stated. He went on to add that “our work shows we have the ability to influence these cells and that they can be efficiently converted into adipocytes.”
During the study, the researchers found that they must influence the tissue to regenerate within a specific time period after the wound occurs. Otherwise, they lose the opportunity and a scar will form. To determine the window of opportunity, researchers had to discover where the signals were coming from. Eventually, they determined that Bone Morphogenetic Protein can instruct the myofibroblasts to convert into fat. They also found that the key is to regenerate hair follicles first and then the fat will regenerate in response to the signals from those follicles. In other words, the study showed that fat and hair develop separately but cannot develop independently. The hair follicles form first but the fat will not form without the new hairs. Converting the surrounding myofibroblasts by regenerating the hair follicles is crucial to creating fat cells. Once the new fat cells are formed, they are identical to the pre-existing fat cells. This discovery has opened the door to the possibility of scar-less wounds. Adipocyte loss, or fat loss, is a natural result of aging which results in saggy skin, gauntness and wrinkles. The loss of adipocytes is also a known side effect of certain medical conditions and treatments including HIV treatments.
The study is still in its earliest stages and was merely used to demonstrate proof of the concept. The experiment has not reached the point of successful hair follicle growth from a wound on a living human. Until then, doctors and patients can still use various types of scar treatments including injectable fillers, laser treatments and dermabrasion.