New Cell Therapy Leading Way to Faster Tissue Repair

Researchers may be closer to developing a means of accelerating the healing of wounds on a battlefield, something the Pentagon has a keen interest in.

As early as 2002, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency put out a request for proposals seeking novel ideas giving troops a technology to immediately accelerate tissue repair for wounded or injured soldiers. Ideas suggested in the proposal included use of electromagnetic fields such as near infrared, millimeter waves and radio frequency.

But now researchers say an evolutionarily conserved gene called Lin28a, active in embryos but not in adults, enhanced the repair of damaged tissue in a test using mice. By reactivating the dormant gene Lin28a, which is active in embryonic stem cells, researchers were able to regrow hair and repair cartilage, bone, skin and other soft tissues in mice, Boston Children’s Hospital said in a Nov. 7 statement.

“It sounds like science fiction, but Lin28a could be part of a healing cocktail that gives adults the superior tissue repair seen in juvenile animals,” lead researcher Dr. George Daley, director of the hospital’s Stem Cell Transplantation Program, said in a Nov. 7 statement. The findings were published that day in the journal Cell.

To date, the testing proved successful in young mice, but not adults, and so there is still a ways to go, researchers said.

Past efforts to improve wound healing and tissue repair have mostly failed, but altering metabolism is a new strategy that could prove successful, Daley said. The researchers determined that the Lin28a protein could play a role because it regulates growth and development in juveniles, though its levels decline with age.

Scientist Shyh-Chang Ng, one of the authors on the journal paper, said it’s naturally assumed that cells related to growth are the major players in wound healing, “but we found that the core metabolism of cells is rate-limiting in terms of tissue repair. The enhanced metabolic rate we saw when we reactivated Lin28a is typical of embryos during their rapid growth phase.”

They reactivated the protein in the mice, whose bodies where shaved of hair and their ears and digits injured. The result was a spurring of production of metabolic enzymes and processes normally more active in embryos – essentially “revving up” cell bioenergetics to generate the energy needed to stimulate and grow new tissues, they said.

Further experiments showed they could enhance wound healing with manufactured compounds that directly activated mitochondrial metabolism, rather than Lin28a, which is difficult to get into the cells.

This possibly opens the door to tissue regeneration repair with drugs, they said.

About the Author

Bryant Jordan
Bryant Jordan is a reporter for He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter at @BryantJordan.
  • SJE

    Most of the advances in medicine are in acute care, especially trauma. Battlefield medicine has led the way in that. What is lagging is chronic care. This is an area that needs some DARPA attention: hundreds of thousands of US troops suffer from long term disability from war: PTSD, various head injuries, limb loss, blindness, back injuries. This is important for our troops and their families. It is important for readiness: many could go back if their injuries were healed. Its also very important for the bottom line: healthcare (in both the pentagon and VA) cost far more than any weapon system.

    • blight_

      NIH hasn’t been great at pushing applications to its research. It’s been good at basic sciences and generating (patent-free) ideas for capitalism. Universities can always tap their engineering faculty and labs to get the prototypes rolling.

      • SJE

        The NIH responds to the budget decisions of Congress. They spend more on AIDS than arthritis, despite arthritis affecting more people (especially infantry, IMO). Vets need to start push Congress on this.

        You also have to look at the bigger issues, which are cultural and regulatory.

        Culturally, modern medicine revolves around the ER, and the doctor as hero saving the life. We spend about half the health care budget on “extreme” care: trauma and end of life.

        The government is willing to pay more for orphan treatments and extreme care, but are cheapskates on other aspects of medicine, like regular follow ups, physical therapy, psych, which is where your chronically injured need most care.

        On the regulatory side, the FDA doesnt much touch the decisions of doctors, and has lower scrutiny for “extreme” medicine or “orphan” indications. This is as it should be. But there is so much regulation for the rest of health care that it stifles research and development, and slows new treatments for repairing chronic injuries. Pharma is investing more in orphan indications for this reason..

        • Bernard

          Arthritis may suck, but it doesn’t kill people. So I don’t see how you could expect it to get more funds than AIDS. AIDS even kills innocent children.

          • SJE

            Every seen an innocent kid with arthritis? Its really sucks too.

    • Stan

      I disagree. There has been quite a bit of progress made in tissue engineering and it’s a very active field although they are still in the very early stages. Frankly, it’s making the old science fictional ideas of cyborgs obsolete. And then there is this recent announcement.…

  • Stan

    I could definitely go for some hair on the only place missing them, my head. One problem with this off the top of my head, increased incidence of cancer.

    • rtsy

      I’d say the bigger problem is that this tech is still in the what if/maybe stage. Gene therapy and direct mitochondrial stimulation are still more scifi than reality.

    • blight_

      Hmm, saw a nature med paper discussing baldness in mice. There’s a gene that is downregulated in humans as they grow older that remains constitutively expressed in mice that can be linked to hair regeneration…

  • Janet

    Praise God for the researchers and for our wonderful service personnel!

    • blight_

      And curse the indirects that allow universities to skim as much as half of an NIH grant off for their own ends.

      • SJE

        True: and it goes to “administrators,” “HR” and to various humanities departments. Its a scandal, really.

  • Hunter76

    I can see the headlines- “Frankenmen Coming”.

    • Hector B-77W

      That headline already happend in 2010! Here’s a story about DARPA supposedly trying to genetically engineer living, breathing “lab-monsters” that can “ultimately be programmed to live indefintely”:…

  • Noel Garrido
  • benny

    Solution is simple. Eat Snakehead soup. The Chinese do after surgery or bad cuts. Gotta be something in the fish that helps healing. You get penicillin from bread mold, arthritis shots from chickin combs. Why nit fish soup.