Stem cell biology expert Joseph T. Rodgers and a team at the University of South Carolina have discovered a way to accelerate healing following injury. The findings were published in Cell Reports, a scientific journal. The National Institutes of Health funded the research along with the Department of Veterans Affairs, Stanford University’s Department of Neurology, and other foundations that support medical research.
Alert Stem Cells
Research has shown that stem cells become “alert” when the body suffers an injury. In this alert state, stem cells are better equipped to repair damaged tissues and support the body’s ability to heal from the injury. Rodgers and team decided to test whether the blood from an injured individual could force the stem cells in a healthy person to assume an alert state. To test this theory, healthy mice were injected with blood from injured mice. It was noted that the stem cells in the healthy mice became alert.
HGFA: The Healing Enzyme
The team also successfully identified the enzyme that becomes activated when an injury is sustained. HGFA – hepatocyte growth factor activator – is present in everyone’s blood, but only signals stem cells to become adopt the alert state following an injury.
Accelerated Healing Following Injuries
The research team also investigated what happens if an injury is sustained in a person who already has alert stem cells. To test this, healthy mice were injected with HGFA and then subjected to muscle or skin injuries. The investigators found that mice who had received HGFA pre-injury were able to heal faster in terms of fur growth and return to running on wheels.
This suggests that when HGFA is present in a person’s blood, the body responds more efficiently to injury and is able to heal more quickly. Therefore, HGFA can be likened to vaccines that preemptively protect the body against diseases.
The discovery means that in the future, people likely to suffer injuries, such as professional athletes, people headed for battle, and patients scheduled for surgery, could be given HGFA therapeutically before the damage to tissues occurs. The researchers are exploring the role of HGFA in restoring healing abilities in people such as diabetics who have compromised wound healing.