Ever wonder why a child’s scraped knee heals faster than an adult’s? Scientists may have figured out the science behind this phenomenon – researchers have discovered the gene responsible for tissue repair, known as Lin28a. This particular gene, which is active in embryos and children but not in adults, could lead to future advances in the treatment of injuries.
"It sounds like science fiction, but Lin28a could be part of a healing cocktail that gives adults the superior tissue repair seen in juvenile animals," said the study’s lead author, George Daley, MD, PhD, director of stem cell transplantation at Boston Children's Hospital.
From insects and amphibians to fish and mammals, tissue repair has always been stronger in juveniles than in adults. Although the cause has never been known, Dr. Daley speculates that the Lin28a protein could play an important role. This protein regulates growth and development in juveniles, but its levels decrease with age.
To determine whether this protein might influence tissue repair in adults, Dr. Daley and his team tested their theory on mice. When they reactivated the Lin28a gene (which was dormant in adult mice), researchers were able to regrow hair and repair cartilage, bone, skin and other soft tissues in a mouse model. The protein also stimulated cell proliferation and migration, which are critical for tissue repair. The researchers found that the Lin28a protein achieves all of this by enhancing the mitochondrial metabolism, just like younger animals. This boost of energy in cells allows for faster healing and tissue repair.
"We were surprised that what was previously believed to be a mundane cellular 'housekeeping' function would be so important for tissue repair," said Shyh-Chang Ng of Harvard Medical School. "One of our experiments showed that bypassing Lin28a and directly activating mitochondrial metabolism with a small-molecule compound also had the effect of enhancing wound healing, suggesting that it could be possible to use drugs to promote tissue repair in humans."
This discovery is particularly important because this is the first time a gene has been found to reactivate embryo-like regenerative powers without causing cancer. Scientists are positive that knowledge of the Lin28a gene could be used to develop regenerative drugs to safely heal wounds faster.
Until this “miracle drug” is created, there are products that can speed tissue healing and help wounds heal without scarring. For more information or to make an appointment with us, please call Greenville Dermatology today at (864) 242-5872.