A New Genetic Factor Could Allow Adult Skin to Repair Itself Like a Baby’s

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A New Genetic Factor Could Allow Adult Skin to Repair Itself Like a Baby’s featured image
Getty Images / Betsie Van der Meer

A recent scientific discovery by researchers at Washington State University could lead to more effective skin wound and scar treatments in the future. In a study published in eLife last week, a genetic factor was identified in mice that allows adult skin to repair itself like the skin of a newborn baby. Of course the goal is not to make a 50-year-old look like a toddler—nor would anyone want that—but the findings could prove helpful in dermatology (making skin behave, and therefore look, younger) and other areas of medicine down the road.

According to the study, which was performed on mice, “human and mouse skin are similar in their overall structural complexity, indicating that mouse skin can be a useful model to study skin development and wound repair.” Oftentimes when we wound our skin, a scar forms, and hair is unable to grow in the scar tissue, which is also typically very slow to regenerate (if it does at all). In this case, researchers identified a genetic factor—Lef1—in the skin of baby mice that controls the formation of hair follicles, and when it was activated in specialized cells in adult mice, their skin was able to heal wounds without scarring.

“Our scRNA-seq data, together with our tissue-specific knockout model, implies that Lef1 expression in the dermis could convey the regenerative ability of neonatal papillary fibroblasts in adult skin,” write the researchers. “In humans, at the age of 50+, the quality of the papillary dermis gradually deteriorates, which correlates with the aging skin decreased wound healing abilities. Our data suggests that activating the papillary region [a layer of skin just below the surface] to retain its identity by expression of Lef1 has the potential to enhance wound healing in humans.” According to Washington State University science writer Sara Zaske, the research team has received a new grant from the National Institutes of Health and will continue working to understand how Lef1 and other factors work to repair skin.

“This is a very optimistic research development in the skin health/beauty arena,” says Davie, FL dermatologist Marianna Blyumin-Karasik, MD. “Lef1 factor delivers promising results in wound healing while minimizing scarring and regenerating skin in adult mice. There is a potential that this factor’s skin stimulation can translate to humans. We hope that this type of targeted research can help pave the future of more advanced skin repair, hair regrowth, scar prevention, and anti-aging revitalization of our skin.”

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