Scientists have revealed how proteins in menstrual blood can be used to stimulate skin repair, including wounds that otherwise recover poorly. Today, tens of billions of dollars are spent on chronic skin injuries, and increasing rates of diabetes are adding to this demand, so utilizing the womb's incredible ability to repair itself quickly could be the way forward.
“The lining of the uterus, the endometrium, is an amazing tissue which undergoes ‘self-destruction’ each month at menstruation, followed by repair and regeneration of the tissue in preparation for pregnancy. This occurs, on average, 450 times in each woman's reproductive life,” said Dr Jemma Evans of Melbourne’s Hudson Institute of Medical Research in a statement.
The uterine lining usually repairs itself within 3-5 days, without scars. Even for healthy people, similar injuries to the skin can take 2 weeks, and diabetes is only the most common of many conditions that extend this further. Evans sought the womb’s secret, and whether it could be applied to skin injuries, particularly those like pressure ulcers that can take months to repair.
In The FASEB Journal, Evans reports three rounds of pre-clinical success, first using skin cells in culture, then with donated skin removed during surgery and finally on animals. She notes the wounds in all three cases were only a millimeter (0.04 inches) deep – more like a paper-cut than something that would heal poorly for most people, but considers the work a proof of concept before taking to clinical trials.
“In wounds made in human skin cells, plasma derived from menstrual fluid brought about complete repair, or 100 percent healing in 24 hours, compared with about 40 percent healing observed when using human blood plasma to mimic normal wound healing,” Evans said.
Comparisons of menstrual fluid plasma with that produced from ordinary blood revealed the presence of many additional proteins, some of which were found to facilitate skin repair when extracted and applied on their own.
Although safety testing will certainly be required, the fact that billions of women are exposed to these proteins internally every month suggests the risk is low. On the other hand, existing treatments for chronic wounds cause cell proliferation, leading to fears they may raise the risk of cancer.
The menstrual blood used in these experiments was collected by volunteers using menstrual cups, but Evans told IFLScience clinical applications will not require an industry of women selling their blood. “We can synthesize these factors in the lab,” she said.
Evans told IFLScience the menstrual factors may have additional applications for burns victims, possibly enhancing the effectiveness of “spray-on-skin” where patient's cells are cultured before being applied to their injuries.
Evans attributes the fact no one has investigated menstrual fluid's potential for skin repair before to a “lack of a lateral approach”, rather than any squeamishness on the part of male researchers.