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Published online 23 September 2018
A combination of four proteins can reprogram cells inside an ulcer to encourage wound healing.
Non-healing skin ulcers are a serious clinical problem in people with diminished ability for regeneration, such as in diabetes and the elderly. Typically, these ulcers are surgically managed through skin grafts; an option that might not be optimum for some people due to the risks accompanying the surgical procedures.
An international team of scientists, including a researcher from King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia, has developed a promising alternative approach that helps regenerate large ulcers in a safe and timely manner.
By analyzing the genetic profile of human skin cells, the team identified four specific transcription factors — master proteins that regulate cell fate by binding to DNA — that can reprogram unspecialized stem cells present inside an ulcer to turn into skin precursor cells.
The transcription factors also helped the stem cells maintain their self-renewing power, ensuring efficient repair of the ulcers within 28 days.
The team conducted further experiments on mice and found that delivering these four factors to the ulcers led to the generation of normal skin tissue. The regenerated skin connected normally to the surrounding tissues.
The method could improve how serious ulcers are treated in the future. However, further research is necessary.
“This knowledge might not only be useful for enhancing skin repair, but could also serve to guide in vivo regenerative strategies in other human pathological situations in which tissue or organ homeostasis and repair are impaired,” the authors conclude in their study, published in the journal Nature.
Kurita, M. et al. In vivo reprogramming of wound-resident cells generates skin epithelial tissue. Nature 561, 243–247 (2018).