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Researchers Report Gene and Stem Cell Therapy Could Speed up Wound Healing

Update Date: Oct 09, 2013 12:47 PM EDT

Even though there are effective medications and therapy for healing wounds, the recovery process can still be slow. In a new study, researchers from Johns Hopkins used mouse models to test a new kind of treatment for wound healing. They found, in elderly mice, that using a combination of gene therapy and stem cell therapy could speed up the recovery process.

"As we get older, it is harder for our wounds to heal," stated professor of surgery at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, John W. Harmon, MD. "Our research suggests there may be a way to remedy that."

The research team's first attempt in speeding up the recovery time involved using gene therapy to boost levels of HIF-1 (Hypoxia-Inducible Factor-1). Researchers know that when the body heals burns or other wounds, the stem cells located in the bone marrow immediately start to work. These stem cells go to the wound and become blood vessels, skin, and other types of tissues that work to repair the injured site. HIF-1 helps facilitate the movement of these stem cells. When people age, their levels of HIF-1 start to deteriorate, which leads to fewer stem cells getting released. The recovery time is then compromised.

The team injected elderly mice that suffered from burn wounds with a better version of the gene that is responsible for coding the protein. The researchers found that gene therapy alone was not as effective as they would like. The researchers then modified the treatment by adding stem cell therapy. The team removed bone marrow from a young mouse and used the bone marrow to grow stem cells in the lab. Once the stem cells were finished growing, the team injected the supercharged cells in the mice. The team observed that after 17 days, the group of mice that received this combination therapy had significantly better improvements in their wounds than the group of mice that only received gene therapy. The mice that received combination therapy also had better blood flow and more blood vessels at the site of the wound.

"It's not a stretch of the imagination to think this could someday be used in elderly people with burns or other difficult wounds," Harmon explained.

The study will be present this weekend at the American College of Surgeons' Surgical Biology Club.

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