Scientists converted one type of cell (seen in red) into basal keratinocytes (green), a precursor to healthy skin cells
Researchers at the Salk Institute reported successful conversion of open wounds into healthy skin without the need for surgery. The cutaneous ulcers are long-lasting lesions majorly found on sufferers of severe burns, bedsores, and diabetes. These wounds are complex and run deep, through several layers of skin, which require surgical treatment by taking grafts of existing skin and layering them over the top.
Salk scientists examined basal keratinocytes, which resemble stem cells, where they serve as a precursor to various types of skin cells. In large and severe cutaneous ulcers, these basal keratinocytes are absent, while the cells that are present and multiply throughout the healing process focus their energies on closing the wound and curtailing inflammation, instead of regenerating healthy skin.
As a part of the study, the examined levels of proteins in both types of cell and identified 55 proteins and RNA molecules unique to the basal keratinocytes. Through trial and error that number was whittled down to four, leaving the scientists with a neat set of ‘reprogramming factors,’ elements that could potentially be harnessed to give the cells a new identity. These four factors were worked into a topical solution and used to treat mice with skin ulcers, who proceeded to grow healthy skin in just 18 days.
Furthermore, team is working on optimizing the technique by carrying out experiments to establish its long term safety. Other promising examples of cell reprogramming have involved harvesting them from the body, engineering them in the lab and then injecting them back into the sample. The research was published in the journal Nature in September 2018.