Physical scars are a part of everyone’s life. For some people, a mild scrape or an unfortunate bike accident as a child can scar them for life (literally!). Whether you’re really fit, skinny or jacked, you probably have a scar with a story behind it. Many of these scars simply don’t go away even after a long time, making them a funny (and a little embarrassing) reminder of the pains of growing up. For others, scars may be a painful reminder of a haunting incident that occurred a long time ago. Either way, these scars don’t look very appealing and can make some people insecure. But, what if there was a way to make your wounds heal without permanently scarring your skin?
While it sounds too good to be true, scientists have indeed found a way for your wounds to heal like regular skin, which has been compiled in a report. However, it’s important to note that pre-existing scars can’t be fixed using this method, so don’t get your hopes up! So, what’s the logic behind this miraculous discovery?
“Essentially, we can manipulate wound healing so that it leads to skin regeneration rather than scarring,” said George Cotsarelis, MD, the chair of the Department of Dermatology and the Milton Bixler Hartzell Professor of Dermatology at Penn, and the principal investigator of the project in a news release by Penn Medicine News.
Notably, the reason why scarred tissue has a very distinct appearance is due to a lack of any hair follicles or fat cells called adipocytes. These adipocytes are lost as wounds heal and turn into scars. The majority of cells found in a scar are myofibroblasts, which were previously thought to only form scars.
“The secret is to regenerate hair follicles first. After that, the fat will regenerate in response to the signals from those follicles.”
Interestingly, the news release also stated that while the hair follicles and fat developed separately, they did not do so independently. The hair follicles developed first, and the process behind the reformation of these had already been discovered previously. N0w, they’ve also discovered a way to convert the myofibroblasts, the most common type of cell in a scar, to regenerate as adipocytes instead of forming a scar. However, this new discovery actually goes hand-in-hand with the previous one. The fat cells will only form once there are new fairs.
Inducing hair follicles in mouse and human skin cells, they found that the hair follicles helped in the growth of fat cells in regenerating skin. This is not naturally occurring in mammals, as regular scars have no hair follicles in them.
“The findings show we have a window of opportunity after wounding to influence the tissue to regenerate rather than scar,” said the study’s lead author Maksim Plikus, PhD, an assistant professor of Developmental and Cell Biology at the University of California, Irvine.
What they identified was that Bone Morphogenetic Protein (BMP) in these hair follicles was signalling the myofibroblasts to become fat.
“Typically, myofibroblasts were thought to be incapable of becoming a different type of cell,” Cotsarelis said. “But our work shows we have the ability to influence these cells, and that they can be efficiently and stably converted into adipocytes.”
The news release also stated that these new cells were “indistinguishable” from those before a wound, and allowed the skin to look natural after recovery, rather than a scar.
However, this new breakthrough isn’t just useful to heal your wounds, but also could be the key to anti-ageing. These adipocytes are lost naturally over time due to age, leading to undesirable wrinkles. They are also lost through complications from other conditions and treatments, such as HIV.
“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,” Cotsarelis said.
While this information sounds promising, there may still be years of research ahead before viable treatments for scars become reality.
By Muhd Farhan