Wounds May One Day Heal Better, Due to New NIH-Funded Centers

Burns. Diabetic ulcers. Gunshot wounds. Bedsores. The treatment of these and other wounds may improve, thanks to a new initiative of the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS), a component of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

The institute announces that it will award $13 million over four years to create four centers to develop innovative therapies for acute and chronic wounds.

Central to the effort is bringing together experts from many fields: microbiologists, engineers, cell biologists, dermatologists, and other physicians. The goal is to deepen understanding of wound healing and apply this knowledge to enhance treatment.

The new centers create interdisciplinary groups of basic scientists and clinicians to work together on their most innovative ideas, said NIH Director Elias A. Zerhouni, MD. Focusing the diverse expertise and approaches of these teams will integrate current knowledge about how wounds heal and generate new strategies to enhance and speed the healing process."

The new Centers for Innovative Wound Healing Research include a total of 36 investigators at eight universities and medical centers. The wound healing centers and their lead principal investigators are:

-- Andrew Baird, PhD, a molecular biologist at the La Jolla Institute for Molecular Medicine in San Diego. Baird's group will combine mathematics and biology to simultaneously evaluate millions of molecules for their capacity to speed up the normal healing process. These methods, originally developed by cancer researchers to target tumors, allow investigators to mine huge libraries of molecules for those with new and improved biological activities. Baird and his colleagues will use promising molecules to enhance the activity of growth factors that accelerate healing, deliver gene-based medicines to promote tissue repair, and study how stem cells in bone marrow contribute to tissue regeneration.

-- Luisa A. DiPietro, DDS, PhD, an immunologist and cell biologist at the University of Illinois in Chicago. DiPietros group will study wound healing in mucosal tissues, which protect body cavities and canals that come into contact with the air. These tissues, such as those found in the mouth and genital and digestive tracts, heal more quickly and with less scarring than skin. Understanding how mucosal tissues heal so well could suggest ways to minimize scars from skin wounds. The team will start by identifying the proteins and genes key to mucosal healing by comparing mucosal and skin repair in humans, mice, and rabbits. Then, the scientists will test whether manipulating any of these molecules can affect scar formation and healing. Ultimately, the goal of the research center is to develop drugs that reduce scarring in humans, especially adults, who tend to heal more slowly than children.

-- Gregg L. Semenza, MD, PhD, a geneticist at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, Md. Semenzas group will study how certain types of cells, called endothelial progenitor cells, can speed healing and reduce scarring in burn wounds. The cells, dubbed EPCs, are produced in bone marrow and are essential to rebuilding blood vessels, which are needed to repair injured tissues. The research team will test ways to promote this natural healing by turning on a specific set of genes that recruit EPCs to the wound site.

-- Philip S. Stewart, PhD, a chemical and biological engineer at Montana State University in Bozeman. The Stewart group will examine how thin layers of bacteria, called microbial biofilms, impede the healing of chronic wounds. Microbial biofilms are complex, structured communities in which bacteria and other microorganisms interact with each other. When such films collect on dead or damaged tissue, they can resist antibiotics and immune system defenses. The research team will study the incidence and microbial make-up of biofilms in chronic wounds, develop laboratory models of biofilm infection, and test treatments designed to disrupt the biofilms. In addition to yielding treatments for chronic wounds, this research may help in treating other conditions in which biofilms are thought to play a role, such as ear infections, and inflammation of the sinuses, bones, and lining of the heart.

Source: National Institutes of Health