A new technique could help treat foot ulcers more effectively.

According to the American Podiatric Medical Association, diabetic foot ulcers have several primary causes, including the loss of feeling and diminished circulation that accompany diabetes. No matter the cause, though, one thing is clear: these ulcers have become a common scourge for diabetic patients.

According to a 2011 report in the journal Data Points,  approximately 10 to 15 percent of diabetics develop an ulcer at least once in their life. With estimates putting the worldwide diabetic population at 300 million people by 2025, there will be a need for increasingly effective treatments.

Fortunately, there is just such a groundbreaking new approach on the way.

A brand new start

The new insight into treating diabetic foot ulcers actually involves two interconnected studies.

The primary research project, outlined in a recent edition of Cellular Reprogramming, focused on the extraction of skin cells directly from the ulcers. The research team, which features professors from Tufts University, found that they could genetically reprogram these skin cells and revert them to an embryonic state. With this change, the skin cells can become a different type entirely, one that can heal much faster and more efficiently than the cells that normally comprise ulcers.

The second study, published in the journal Wound Repair and Regeneration, focused on how to actually epigram the ulcer cells. That team, also comprised of Tufts researchers, found that the best method involved the protein fibronectin. As Diabetes.co.uk explained, fibronectin plays a role in other diabetic complications, namely issues with the kidneys breaking down. In the case of the ulcers, though, the protein collects and impedes proper wound healing. By reducing the functions of the fibronectin, the cells can be reprogrammed into embryonic cells and begin wound repair.

As for the immediate future, the Tufts scientists are studying 3D models to better determine the effectiveness of the grown or modified cells.

Just the beginning

In an accompanying press release, Anna Maione, who headed the study published in Wound Repair and Regeneration, said that this research is a huge step in developing an effective form of therapy for diabetic foot ulcers.

“The development of more effective therapies for foot ulcers has been hampered by the lack of realistic wound-healing models that closely mimic the function of the extracellular matrix, which is the scaffold critical for wound repair in skin,” she said. “This work builds on our paper published in 2015 that showed that cells from diabetic ulcers have fundamental defects which we can simulate using our 3D tissue models grown in the lab. These models will be a great way to test new therapeutics that could improve wound healing and prevent limb amputation which can result when treatments fail.”


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