Johns Hopkins researchers, working with elderly mice, have determined that combining gene therapy with an extra boost of the same stem cells the body already uses to repair itself leads to faster healing of burns and greater blood flow to the site of the wound.
Their findings offer insight into why older people with burns fail to heal as well as younger patients, and how to potentially harness the power of the body's own bone marrow stem cells to reverse this age-related discrepancy.
"As we get older, it is harder for our wounds to heal," says John W. Harmon, M.D., a professor of surgery at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, who will present his findings to the American College of Surgeons' Surgical Biology Club on Sunday at 9 a.m. "Our research suggests there may be a way to remedy that."
To heal burns or other wounds, stem cells from the bone marrow rush into action, homing to the wound where they can become blood vessels, skin and other reparative tissue. The migration and homing of the stem cells is organized by a protein called Hypoxia-Inducible Factor-1 (HIF-1). In older people, Harmon says, fewer of these stem cells are released from the bone marrow and there is a deficiency of HIF-1. The protein was first discovered about 15 years ago at Johns Hopkins by Gregg L. Semenza, M.D., Ph.D., one of Harmon's collaborators.