Friday, November 25, 2011

Can worms hold the key to healing wounds?

This article discusses the possibility of studying the healing capabilities of the roundworm C. elegans and using it to improve healing skin wounds in humans.  Biologists at the University of California, San Diego have discovered genes in the roundworm C. elegans that signal the presence of surface wounds and trigger a series of chemical reactions allowing worms to close their wounds quickly before they turn fatal.  Roundworms were used because they are transparent making it easy to put them on a slide and seeing the calcium in their cells, they are small and easy to grow and also because they have a rapid wound response, which keeps their surface, wounds from becoming fatal

It has been known that when a cell is damaged the calcium levels within the cell increase and so a series of experiments were conducted where the skin of roundworms was punctured with either a needle or laser and the calcium was monitored with a fluorescent protein.  The biologist involved in these experiments believe that calcium pathways play a big role in either sensing the damage inflicted or are responding to some other receptor that senses the damage, but they are not certain exactly what this pathway is sensing.  In a time lapse movie the researchers were able to see how actin is enlisted and surrounds the wound then closes it by tightening the actin.  They believe calcium regulated the process of closing the wounds on the roundworms because the calcium levels rise when there is a wound and also because if the calcium was blocked the actin ring did not form around the wound.   The researchers have also discovered a protein in the roundworms called DAPK-1, which inhibits the closure of wounds, and they believe this could be used in humans to improve wound healing by using a drug that inhibits the action of the DAPK-1 protein.

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