Doctors are developing a new treatment to inhibit certain proteins and decrease healing times.

The greater wound care industry is continually working to better address ongoing concerns of chronic wounds and their accompanying ailments. In recent months, a group of Italian researchers developed a new infrared camera technique that can spot these painful injuries much earlier. Now, another team of scientists has made an important breakthrough – and this one occurred almost entirely by accident. In a new study published in Developmental Cell, researchers uncovered a protein that can help speed up wound healing rates

A powerful protein

This important new discovery was made by a team of doctors from the Center for Cancer Biology in Adelaide, Australia. Led by Dr. Michael Samuel, the group was originally looking into the fundamental development of cancer and what role the extracellular matrix plays in the disease’s process. According to the journal World Wide Wounds, the ECM is the largest single component of your skin and responsible for the creation of certain tissue structures vital in the wound healing process. It was during their lengthy analysis that the team uncovered the true power of a basic protein called 14-3-3 zeta.

“We found that when a particular protein called 14-3-3 zeta was not present wounds healed a lot quicker in our models of wound healing,” Samuel told ABC News Australia. In fact, healing times were as much as 50 percent faster in most cases.

According to UniProt Consortium, 14-3-3 zeta is a diverse signaling protein. That means it effectively activates a number of different factors – like transmembrane receptors and phosphatases – that are responsible for your skin’s overall structure and integrity. A 2012 study published in the journal Expert Opinion on Therapeutic Targets found that 14-3-3 zeta serves as a major factor in cancer development. Primarily, it helps regulate the disease’s progression and is involved in setting a person’s therapeutic resistance.

Building new blocks

So what does a lack of 14-3-3 zeta have to do with wound healing? Speaking with Australia’s The Advertiser, Samuel said that by inhibiting or removing the protein, the body is able to increase production of scaffolds, or stiff cellular constructs that serve as the building blocks of new skin. Chronic wounds in particular, for a number of reasons, can’t form these scaffolds as effectively, and that’s why they remain open and vulnerable to infection.

So far, the team developed a protein inhibitor used on laboratory mice. In most cases, the mice’s wounds closed fully in under five days. In the coming years, the Aussie team will reate a protein specifically geared toward humans which could be on the market in the next decade or so.

Even with several more years of research, the team is optimistic about how this brand new therapy could potentially help millions of chronic wound patients. In the U.S. alone, there are over 6.5 million people living with chronic wounds, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“As a biologist you have to have a natural sense of curiosity I think,” research assistant Kaitlin Scheer told The Advertiser. “I love it because we’re always learning new things, even doing little experiments and thinking no one in the world has ever observed this particular phenomenon before. I think that’s amazing.”

The cost of wound care

More than simply helping to improve patients’, the aforementioned research could potentially reduce the financial burden surrounding chronic wound care. According to the same CDC figure, the market of products – including gauze, dressings, ointments, therapy devices and more – reached $15.3 billion by 2010. Though there aren’t official figures yet, reducing the time for wound healing to just a few days could have a sizable impact on many patients’ budgets.

In the meantime, there are companies like Advanced Tissue to help treat chronic wounds. As the nation’s leader in specialized wound care supplies, Advanced Tissue delivers high-quality products to patients in the home setting as well as to residents in long-term care facilities.