Wound Healing: Babyface in lieu of Scarface

19. March 2008
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Lash on the throat after a little accident with the sword? Ugly scar after a surgery? Who needs that? Now scientists want to tackle one of the oldest problems of human vulnerability by genetic engineering - and might open up a booming market there.

There is this thing about scars. At the right place and in the right size they can be well decorating, perhaps even turn on some people in certain situations. But by and large scars are mostly conceived as disturbing and it does not come as a surprise that researchers are approaching the issue not just from a cosmetic point of view, but are considering other strategies as well.

Scar-free is (no) sorcery

Professor Paul Martin and his team of researchers at the Bristol University in England now plan to use genes as an aid to take some off the esthetic problem coming along with scars. Whoever had a cut on his fingers knows that basically the body is capable of wound healing without scars. Even rhagadae reaching deeply into the corium can heal without visible residues. With a little genetic engineering, tissue regeneration should be shoved in the right direction.
The English men assumed for their tests of a gene, that one takes a relevant position in the wound healing process, namely the osteopontin-gene. They were able to demonstrate that macrophages and mast cells in a wound release mediators causing the connective tissue cells (fibroblasts) to express additional osteopontin. This again benefits the generation of granulation tissue and the connective tissue-type rebuild of the wound. The trick of the scientists now was to turn off exactly that particular osteopontin-gene. Successfully: When the osteopontin-gene is turned off, additional blood vessels are built in a fresh wound, speeding up the healing process, reducing the quantity of granulation tissue thus ultimately giving the body less time to produce connective tissue-type scar tissue.

The scar-stop comes in a tube

So far it is impressive, but: How do you turn off a wound? The researchers found a simple answer: With gel. Of course not just some gel. The paste put in the wound ground in Bristol contains a galore of antisense-DNA directed against the osteopontin-gene inactivating it respectively its transcripts by accretion.
But is more than one way: Because the Brits found out that one of those factors stimulating osteopontin-expression in fibroblasts by mast cells and macrophages is an old buddy of theirs: The growth factor of the platelets (PDGF). And this one can be stopped by tyrosinkinasis-units, namely by Imatinib (Glivec®), the “magic bullet” in therapy of chronic-myloic leucemia and gastro-intestinal stroma tumors. And behold! Imatinib applied locally leads to a reduction of scar formation as the scientists reported in the Journal of Experimental Medicine.

License and patent are already placed

Whoever realizes today’s beauty craze, immediately believes that there is a lot of money in anti-scar remedies. Martin sees it the same way: “We really hope that it won’t take too long until such therapies are available clinically”, says the scientist, “PDGF and osteopontin are clear targets now for drugs improving wound healing or arrest the tendency for fibrosis in other body parts”. Mind you – Gleevec is already patented. So the commercial hopes of the British are mainly concentrated on the strategy with antisense-DNA. “Actually the technology was already licensed and patented by a biotech company specialized in treatment of wound healing”, Martin rejoices. Well then – buy stocks!

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