The cells are called neutrophils and natural killer T (NKT) cells. These white blood cells act to kill bacteria and other germs that can infect wounds.
NKT cells also recruit other white blood cells to the site of injury. But in some cases, these NKT cells can do more harm than good, said senior author Elizabeth Kovacs, director of research in Loyola's Burn and Shock Trauma Institute.
Neutrophils can be beneficial to wound healing by gobbling up harmful bacteria and debris such as dead cells.
But neutrophils also can do harm by producing enzymes that digest healthy surrounding tissue, leading to excessive scar tissue and slower healing.
"It's a balancing act. You need neutrophils but not too many of them," said Aleah Brubaker, first author of the article.
NKT cells respond to wound injuries by producing proteins called cytokines and chemokines that attract neutrophils and other white blood cells to the wound.
Kovacs and colleagues wrote that since neutrophils and NKT cells are among the earliest immune system responders to injury, "they serve as ideal targets for modulation of the wound-repair process."
Early treatment in high-risk patients using such therapeutic strategies may be able to "decrease the incidence and prevalence of chronic, non-healing wounds, reduce infectious complications and ameliorate associated health-care costs," wrote the authors.
The study has appeared in the journal Expert Reviews in Dermatology.