Researchers from the University of Southern California identified the signal that triggers stem cells to take action after an injury and showed how it could be used as a therapy to accelerate the body’s healing process.
“Our research shows that by priming the body before an injury, you can speed the process of tissue repair and recovery, similar to how a vaccine prepares the body to a fight infection,” lead author Joseph Rodgers said in prepared remarks.
Rodgers previously showed that when a part of the body is injured, adult stem cells in uninjured regions of the body enter an “alert” state, enhancing their potential to repair damaged tissue.
The team injected blood from an injured mouse into an uninjured mouse, triggering the uninjured mouse’s stem cells to enter an alert state. Rodgers and his fellow researchers observed that injury activates an enzyme called hepatocyte growth factor activator.
In an uninjured mouse, HGFA is abundant but inactive. In an injured mouse, HGFA activates and signals stem cells to be ready to heal.
Then the team injected active HGFA into mice that received muscle or skin injuries days later. They found that those mice healed faster and began running on their wheels sooner than their counterparts that did not receive the HGFA booster.
“We believe this could be a therapeutic approach to improve recovery in situations where injuries can be anticipated, such as surgery, combat or sports,” Rodgers said.
This strategy could also be helpful for patients that do not heal efficiently.
“This work shows that there are factors in the blood that control our ability heal,” Rodgers said. “We are looking at how HGFA might explain declines in healing, and how we can use HGFA to restore normal healing.”