What if doctors could make our skin cells heal open wounds without performing surgery? Researchers at the Salk Institute in San Diego recently discovered how to trick wounded skin cells into becoming healing surface cells, making that ideal situation a potential reality.

Here’s what to know about this recent wound treatment discovery:

What exactly did they find?

When ulcers, burns and other wounds rupture the skin, epithelial cells try to make their way to the affected area to close the wound. However, this open wound healing process is extremely slow and sometimes ineffective in larger wounds or aged skin. In these cases, doctors usually use a skin graft or stem cells to transplant healthy layers of skin to the affected area. The Salk Institute researchers found a new way to treat wounds without slow epithelial cells or surgical interference.

“Researchers found a new way to treat wounds without slow epithelial cells or surgical interference.”

How did they do it?

The researchers used a genetic technique to alter cells in the wounded area. This cellular reprogramming required injecting viruses into non-healing wounds, forcing the non-epithelial cells to turn into epithelial ones. Tested on mice, these new epithelial cells generated new skin within 18 days and healed the injuries entirely within 28 days or less.

What does this mean for open wound healing?

While the results are positive, the study only shows success on mice thus far, meaning further testing and refinements will need to occur before this wound treatment method reaches hospitals. However, researchers are hopeful.

Professor Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte, one of the study’s senior authors, told The Independent that the results suggest medical professionals “could potentially cover or heal a wound of any size in a specific time frame.”

Kevin Gonzales specializes in wound healing at Rockefeller University and was not involved in the study, but did share his perspective on the research with The Guardian: “This breakthrough is a significant contribution to the field, as it will serve as the foundation for improving gene therapy and reprogramming techniques for the skin.”

As such, it seems promising that this new treatment method could be the simpler, quicker and more effective open wound healing alternative to surgical skin transplants in the future. This discovery may also be significant in preventing complications and easing the healing process for difficult wounds.

Check out our educational resources to keep up with more recent discoveries in open wound care.