Posted on May 01, 2017, 6 a.m.
New research suggests that priming the body before an injury can speed up the process of tissue repair and recovery.
Recent research, led by assistant professor of stem cell biology and regenerative medicine at the University of South Carolina Joseph T. Rodgers, has found a way to increase the body’s ability to heal after injury. The study was published in the scientific journal Cell Reports.
The research was funded by grants from the National Institutes of Health. Funding was also secured from the Donald E. and Delia B. Baxter Foundation, Glenn Foundation for Medical Research, and the Department of Veterans Affairs. The study was co-sponsored by the Department of Neurology and Neurological Sciences at Stanford.
In previous research, Rodgers proved that adult stem cells enter an alert state when the body sustains an injury. Alert stem cells have greater ability to heal and repair damaged tissues.
Rodgers theorized that blood from an injured person could produce a state of alert in another person’s stem cells. Using lab mice, he and his team injected healthy mice with blood from their injured counterparts. The stem cells of the healthy mice were observed to adopt the state of alert.
The team was able to expose the chemical mechanism used to signal cells to enter an alert state as the enzyme Hepatocyte Growth Factor Activator (HGFA). HGFA is always present in the bloodstream but does not activate until the body experiences an injury. Once an injury occurs, the enzyme signals adult stem cells to enter the alert state.
Implications for Repair Response in the Injured Body
Once these findings were discovered, Rodgers’ team decided to investigate what would happen if an injury was sustained while the adult stem cells were already in a state of alert.
HGFA was injected into healthy mice. Several days later, the mice were given skin or muscle injuries. Test subjects were observed to heal faster, regrow missing fur, and return to running on exercise wheels sooner.
This research supports the idea that the presence of HGFA in the bloodstream prepares the body to respond more quickly and efficiently to injury. Similar to the way vaccines prepare the body to fight specific diseases, HGFA readies cells to respond to tissue damage.
In the future, people may be able to use HGFA before they engage in activities that could result in injury, like sports, surgery, or battle. HGFA could also be used in a therapeutic capacity for those with compromised healing abilities, like diabetes patients or senior citizens.
Forthcoming studies will explore how HGFA affects declines in the ability to heal, and how to use it to restore normal healing abilities.
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Cell Reports (2017). DOI: 10.1016/j.celrep.2017.03.066 , http://www.cell.com/cell-reports/fulltext/S2211-1247(17)30427-8