Wednesday, March 25, 2015

What creative lessons can we learn from wound healing cells?

Geese migrating in V formation.
Credit:Karthijaygee on Wordpress
It is not a new phenomenon in nature: creatures migrate in a patterned leader-follower fashion. For example, geese fly in a V formation with the leader ahead of them. When tired, the lead goose drops back and hands over leadership to another goose. Researchers working in the field of bioengineering have discovered that cells migrating to the site of a wound exhibit this same pattern.

A delicate biomechanical and biochemical interaction is at play during the cell migration of wound healing cells. At the site of a wound the cells sense that the force between cells, what holds them together, is missing and a protein called DII4 is released. This protein then transmits a signal that activates the migration of wound healing cells to that site. During the migration, the cells are divided into two groups: leader and follower cell groups. The leader cells are distinguished by the possession of a token. That token is a protein called mRNA or messenger RNA which is used for sending biochemical signals to follower cells during migration. Eventually, when the cells arrive at the wound site, the wound healing process is begun.

Astonishingly, just as for migrating geese, it was found that if a leader cell gets missing, in a randomly chosen process, another leader cell is chosen from the ranks of follower cells.

This discovery has much application in medicine.

  • In tissue and organ transplants.

  • Bio-engineers can speed up the process of tissue and organ transplants in humans if they can successfully coordinate this process of wound healing.

  • In tissue regeneration.

  • Since wound healing is similar to tissue regeneration, understanding and controlling this process could help in regeneration and elongation of life.

  • Treatment of diabetes.

  • A non-healing diabetic wound which is the number one cause of lower limb amputations in the United States could be cured when this process is under medical control.

  • In cancer treatment.

  • Cancer cells that invade healthy tissue could be prevented from succeeding when this cell migration activity is coordinated and regulated.

This discovery can open doors to innovations in medicine and engineering.

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