Zurich – ETH researchers have helped to further break down the mechanisms involved in wound healing and the formation of scarring. They have revealed the prominent role played by a single signal molecule. This molecule also plays an important part in terms of cancer.

Using a new method, researchers at University Medicine Zürich (HMZ) have for the first time measured in vivo how damaged skin tissue repairs itself. In addition, they have now submitted their report to be published in the trade journal “Nature Communications”. 

The recent studies were facilitated by the flagship HMZ project Skintegrity, as detailed in a press release issued by the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETH). Two research groups at ETH headed up by Sabine Werner at the Institute of Molecular Health Sciences (MHS) and Edoardo Mazza from the Institute for Mechanical Systems (IMES) conducted these cross-discipline research projects.

The engineers and biologists involved in the research explained in greater detail the mechanisms that control wound healing and formation of scarring. They identified a signal molecule, activin, which plays an important part both in the process of wounds healing and in cancer. “We’ve shown how profoundly a single signal molecule affects the complex interaction between cells and their surroundings”, explains Sabine Werner.

Her hypothesis is that the greater the quantity of activin in the wound, the more connective tissue cells that are generated. Moreover, the composition of the matrix around the cells changes in the presence of higher levels of activin. However, if there is too much activin present, scarring can begin to form.

The insights delivered by the research groups could, for example, contribute to slowing the healing process for facial injuries, in order to avoid any scarring. “Our interdisciplinary approach improves our understanding of healing processes and thus lays the foundation for future clinical applications”, comments Edoardo Mazza in the press release.

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