While some people find it unsightly, scarring is actually quite an interesting thing. Scar tissue is harder and more resilient and its formation is one of the body’s natural functions.

However, scars can also be quite uncomfortable or even painful. Now scientists at the University of Queensland have found a way to reduce scarring.

Scar tissue can cause significant discomfort or even pain, but some people are also bothered by the looks. Image credit: Svdmolen via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Wounds can be quite dangerous in nature. They can get infected and they can also be a site of continuous injury. Of course, humans learned to mitigate that – we have many different types of bandages and medicine. But our body’s still have a very strong response to injury.

The site of the wound becomes rich in blood vessels, which  take oxygen and nutrients to the wound to repair it. This is part of the healing process and the main reason why we are able to heal our wounds relatively quickly. However, once the wound is gone many of those new blood vessels become fibroblast cells, which produce the collagens. Eventually, a thick hard scar is formed. Depending on the location of the scar, it can be quite uncomfortable. Or just unsightly if the person cares about that sort of thing.

In a new animal study scientists discovered a way to target a gene that instructs stem cells to form those blood vessels. Researchers found that vascular stem cells determine if the new blood vessels will be retained or will become scar tissue. Scientists can target the scar forming gene  known as SOX9 using small ribonucleic acid siRNA. This significantly reduced scarring in animal models.

Professor Kiarash Khosrotehrani, one of the authors of the study, said: “The classic situation where there’s a lot of scarring is burns – where the wound is healed but there is a big scar in that area. Now that we’ve found the molecular drivers, we understand the process better and we are hopeful that a treatment can be developed.” 

An obvious application of this treatment would be therapies for various injuries. However, scientists are also thinking about surgeries that leave big scars. For example, scarring after knee or hip replacements, melanoma surgeries and other similar procedures significantly hinder the recovery process. This technique could also be used after plastic surgeries to avoid visible scars. But, of course, more detailed human studies are needed before this therapy can be approved for clinical use.

Of course, scarring has its function. However, modern medicine allows achieving better results without scars. We have ways to help wounds heal and not get infected. If we could deal with scarring, millions of people would avoid unnecessary pain or psychological damage related to the one’s image in the mirror.


Source: University of Queensland