The solution involves a special biomaterial that increases skin cell movement on chronic wounds.

Within the human body, there are several crucial cell types that aid in the wound healing process. In recent years, there have been several studies aimed at understanding a fundamental aspect of these cells: how they move. With more thorough knowledge of this basic function, scientists can create more effective wound care regimens.

In spring 2015, a team from Germany found that a special protein they named Merlin aids in the migration of epithelial cells. Then, in October 2016, another research collective from Shanghai noted that receptor molecules allow the immune cells known as neutrophils to travel to wounds sites and fend off invading microorganisms.

Now, a group from the University of Toronto’s engineering department has developed an exciting new way to help skin cells move faster, and that could be a huge breakthrough for diabetics everywhere.

Super skin cells

As part of a study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the Toronto team has developed a peptide-hydrogel biomaterial to treat chronic wounds. When applied to human skin, the biomaterial – which contains a mixture of various peptides – actually causes the skin cells to “crawl” toward the wound site and heal the wound in less time and more efficiently. The team geared the biomaterial toward diabetes because 15 percent of all diabetics develop ulcers at some point in their lives (per figures from Healthy Cells magazine).

Whereas existing treatments for ulcers and bed sores work by facilitating the growth of new blood vessels, the biomaterial, which is being called QHRDGS or Q-peptide, focuses on reinvigorating skin cells. In an accompanying press release, lead author Milica Radisic said that it’s the skin cells that hold the answer to faster-healing wounds.

“We thought that if we were able to use our peptide to both promote survival and give these skin cells a substrate so they could crawl together, they would be able to close the wound more quickly,” Radisic said. “That was the underlying hypothesis.”

So far, the hypothesis has mostly proven true. In using Q-peptide on a series of skin cells from elderly diabetic patients, wounds healed up to 200 percent faster than normal. Some other treatments the team used as a control only sped up wound healing by 60 percent.
Eventually, the Toronto team wants to market the Q-peptide commercially. The biomaterial may have other applications as well, including helping to heal post-surgical wounds. Either way, this Q-peptide could go a long way to giving hope to millions of diabetic patients who suffer from delayed wound healing.

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