Scientists in two countries announced these medical breakthroughs this month as regenerative medicine continues to gain traction. Medical science may be about to achieve two things once thought impossible. One is re-growing teeth, something that would eliminate the need for dental fillings. The other is healing surgical wounds without leaving scars, a process that involves using a drug designed to treat Alzheimer’s disease.
Teams of scientists in England and the United States, following years of research with mice, announced these discoveries this month. They hope to begin clinical trials soon.
Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine say they have discovered a way to manipulate wounds to heal as regenerated, normal skin rather than as unsightly scar tissue.
The scientists transformed the most common type of cells found in wounds into fat cells. This had been considered impossible to accomplish in humans.
The research team conducted a large, multiyear study in collaboration with the Plikus Laboratory for Developmental and Regenerative Biology at the University of California, Irvine. They published their findings in early January in the journal Science.
“We can manipulate wound healing so that it leads to the regeneration of normal skin without scars,” said Dr. George Cotsarelis, who chairs the Department of Dermatology at Penn, and is the Milton Bixler Hartzell Professor of Dermatology, and principal investigator of the project.
“The secret is to regenerate hair follicles first,” he told Healthline. “Then the fat will regenerate in response to the signals from those follicles.”
Fat cells called adipocytes are normally found in the skin, Cotsarelis said, but they are lost when wounds heal as scars. Myofibroblasts, the most common cells found in healing wounds, were thought to form only scars.
“Scar tissue does not have hair follicles associated with it, which gives it an abnormal appearance from the rest of the skin,” he said.