Scientists have used genetically engineered fish to better understanding skin and wound healing.

When it comes to addressing injuries, the human body has a profoundly effective system in place. Wound healing generally occurs in three stages:

  • Inflammation, where blood vessels begin to close.
  • Proliferation, in which new tissue develops
  • Maturation, or tissue and vessel remodeling.

Each of these steps rely heavily on another, and wound healing is a complex system involving a number of bodily functions. Yet despite what the scientific community knows about this hugely important process, there is still research being conducted. This includes some particularly interesting work from a group of Duke University researchers. As outlined in a new study published in the journal Developmental Cell, the team used a specialized Zebrafish to better understand how skin heals.

Shiny fish, brighter future

So, just what’s so special about these Zebrafish? They’d been genetically engineered so that scales were rainbow-colored, giving each specimen a distinctly luminescent quality. This was more than just to make attractive looking fish. The bright colors would allow the research team to track the movements of each individual scale. The “Skinbow,” as the group of fish were identified, featured some 70-plus distinct hues.

In an accompanying press release, lead author Kenneth Poss said that more work needs to be done in understanding the skin cell behaviors, and creating rainbow fish gives scientists an important visualization tool. The team uses special software to study the shapes and movement patterns of several hundred skin cells. More importantly, the team studied the cells during the regeneration cycle for a wide variety of injuries, including after minor scale exfoliation or the complete removal of one or more fins. By studying each injury for three weeks, the team found a number of intriguing results. For one, sheets of all-new cells formed fairly quickly to help cover up the open wound. Or, in the case of the amputation, cells will double in size to cover more of the negative space. Poss said that a lot of these cellular mechanisms are only detectable because they can see how each cell interacts.

This is only the beginning of what the “Skinbow” has to offer. In coming years, the Duke team will develop other experiments, including imaging techniques. Not only will this research help improve wound healing, but it can also be applied to issues with cancer and infection.

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