Scientists could offer better treatments to diabetics and other patients who have wounds that take time to heal thanks to a new discovery about wound-healing process.
Loyola University Health System researchers found that certain immune system cells slow the wound-healing process.
Thus, it might be possible to improve healing by inactivating these immune system cells, said Dr. Elizabeth Kovacs, who heads the laboratory team that made the discovery.
In the study, the immune system cells that impeded the healing process are called natural killer T (NKT) cells.
NKT cells perform beneficial functions such as killing tumour cells and virus-infected cells.
However, researchers discovered that NKT cells also migrate to wound sites and impede the healing process.
The researchers used an animal model to examine the effects of NKT cells on healing.
Healing was significantly slower in normal mice that had NKT cells than it was in a special breed of mice that lacked NKT cells.
"We demonstrated that early wound closure was accelerated in the absence of NKT cells. Importantly, we also made the novel observation that NKT cells themselves are a constituent of the early wound inflammatory infiltrate," wrote the researchers.
Certain conditions, such as diabetes and infections, can slow or prevent wounds from healing.
Researchers don't know how NKT cells slow healing, but they believe it is possible to inactivate NKT cells using an antibody.
They are testing this prediction in a follow-up study.
The findings are reported online, in advance of print, in the Journal of Surgical Research.