A new study found that cells in the body actually respond to pain.
Regardless of the extent, the accompanying pain is perhaps the worst part of any cut, bruise or other wound type. Yet despite our reluctance to experience this natural sensation, pain can actually be a good thing. For one, it shows us where the injury is located, the overall intensity and even just what kind of wound care regimen might be required. However, pain may also have a different use entirely. According to a new study published in the British Journal of Pharmacology, pain may actually help improve our body’s natural wound healing capabilities.
Pain and healing
So just how would pain improve the way our skin and blood vessels heal? It all seems to boil down to opioid receptors. Released by the brain, these receptors work to block out pain by binding with brain chemicals like endorphins and enkephalins. In the early 1990s, though, Dr. Paul Bigliardi found that these same receptors also exist in the epidermis, or the top layer of human skin.
Now, Bigliardi and his colleagues at the A*STAR Institute of Medical Biology have utilized that earlier research to further this latest study into pain. Specifically, these receptors can greatly influence how quickly and effectively the body’s cells move and adhere to one another while also influencing cell differentiation. By exposing the skin to these opioids, Bigliardi and his team caused cells – specifically within mice subjects – to not only move much faster but also strengthen the bonds between individual cells.
“The most exciting thing is that we can now show that neuropeptides, which are well known in the central nervous system and are involved in pain sensation, are also involved in wound healing,” Bigliardi said. “We can use these principles to affect or control pain and at the same time induce wound healing.”
Currently, Bigliardi and his team are working on developing a topical ointment comprised of opioids that would be applied directly to the skin itself. The team hopes to launch a product officially by early 2017.
Too many cells
It would seem obvious that as these opioids generate increased cellular movement, the rate of healing would thus greatly improve. However, other recent studies have demonstrated that there can be such a thing as cells that have become too active. In 2013, researchers from the University of Tokyo published the results of a multiyear study examining the processes behind wound healing in the Journal of Leukocyte Biology. The team found that too many mast cells, which are found in connective tissue, can actually delay the wound healing process almost entirely.
Among the issues at hand, researchers linked the overproduction of cells to an over-abundance of IL-10, a cytokine that serves as an important anti-inflammatory. If nothing else, the study proves that the chemicals and cells within the human body are quite sensitive. Furthermore, modifying these components is a complex task that can prove both beneficial and detrimental to our ability to heal effectively.
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