There has been a lot of interest, but little progress, in helping wounds heal without scar tissue. One of the main issues to overcome is the abnormal reorganization of collagen under the skin. However, it seems that researchers may have found the answer to this problem beneath the waves.
Researchers have discovered that a particular protein produced by mussels to glue themselves to rocks, when mixed with other synthesized molecules, can aid in wound healing without leaving any scar tissue. Not only that, but the healing skin even goes on to form the hair follicles, oil glands, and blood vessels that are typically absent from standard scar tissue.
When it comes to healing skin, one of the major problems is how the collagen beneath it forms. Normally arranging itself in a weave-like pattern, when the skin knits itself back together, the collagen forms thick bundles and creates the characteristic fibrous tissue and scarring.
The team of the study, published in the journal Biomaterials, may have found a way to prevent this clumping of collagen. A particular molecule known as decorin is known to regulate how collagen is laid down, ensuring that it forms the weave rather than the bundles. Yet the structure of decorin means that it is difficult to produce in the lab. The new study has managed to find a way to create a molecule similar enough that, when it is mixed with the mussel protein and a third substance that draws the collagen strands in, it can dramatically reduce scarring in rats.
To test this, they conducted an experiment in which they applied the glue-like substance to 8-millimeter-wide wounds on rats, which they then covered with a clear plastic sheet. After just 11 days, they found that the cuts had healed by 99 percent, compared to 78 percent in the untreated gash.
What is more, when the researchers then looked at how the tissue had reformed under the microscope, the results were much better than expected. One of the main reasons why scar tissue looks odd to us is because it lacks hair follicles. The team found that the application of the glue even induced the healing skin to reform these follicles, as well as the oil glands and blood vessels.
This study was, as they note, only done in rats. There is a lot to do before it can be transferred to humans, and even then it might not work, so the researchers plan to test the glue out on pigs next.