Scientists at The University of Manchester have found a protein in the skin which could help untreatable wounds heal faster.
The team of scientists published research in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology1showing how the protein arginase1 speeds up the rate of chemical reactions in skin cells.
The researchers examined the role arginase1 – a biochemical catalyst found in the skin – played in the outer cells of the skin in response to wound formation.
The team believes that this research presents an opportunity for the enzyme’s immunological pathway to be positioned as a potential drug target to help repair wounds that would otherwise heal slowly – or not at all.
Non-healing wounds such as pressure sores, diabetic wounds, venous ulcers and non-healing surgical wounds and are characterised by excessive inflammation. These are a particular problem for older people and those that suffer from diabetes.
For the study, researchers took acute wound biopsy samples from three healthy volunteers and chronic wound biopsy samples from 19 patients. The samples were analysed over 12 weeks alongside non-healing wounds on transgenic mice.
The team found that delaying healing wounds in mice and non-healing human diabetic foot ulcers displayed reduced levels of arginase1 in the keratinocytes – the primary cells found in the epidermis, the outermost skin layer.
They also demonstrated the importance of epidermal arginase1 in wound healing for the ability of keratinocytes to repair and close the wound.
Whilst scientists already know that arginase1 is expressed by cells in the skin including immune cells and keratinocytes, the function of arginase1 in keratinocytes was not well understood.
The researchers showed that arginase1 in keratinocytes is needed for production of factors such as putrescine and polyamines, which are needed to help the keratinocytes migrate and proliferate across the wound to heal it.
Targeting arginase-1 as well as these downstream products with supplements restored keratinocyte function and the model systems showed that wounds healed more quickly.
Lead author Professor Sheena Cruikshank from The University of Manchester said: “Non-healing wounds are a major area of unmet clinical need that remain difficult to treat and are the source of misery for millions of people across the world.
“So an improved understanding of the biological mechanisms that promote healing is extremely important.”
“Our data shows a positive correlation between early expression of a catalyst called arginase1 and healing outcomes in both mice and humans. That means that the arginase1 pathway is an exciting target for drugs which could potentially promote wound repair which would otherwise go untreated,” Professor Cruikshank added.