A new therapeutic approach may save diabetics from amputation by promoting wound healing, a recent study has suggested. The approach by Canadian researchers affiliated with the University of Montreal Hospital Research Centre (CRCHUM) is different as it is a way to heal through personalized medicine. “We discovered a way to modify specific white blood cells – the macrophages – and make them capable of accelerating cutaneous healing,” explained nephrologist Jean-François Cailhier from the University of Montreal.
It has long been known that macrophages play a key role in the normal wound healing process. These white cells specialize in major cellular clean-up processes and are essential for tissue repair; they accelerate healing while maintaining a balance between inflammatory and anti-inflammatory reactions (pro-reparation).
“When a wound doesn’t heal, it might be secondary to enhanced inflammation and not enough anti-inflammatory activity,” explained Cailhier. “We discovered that macrophage behaviour can be controlled so as to tip the balance toward cell repair by means of a special protein called Milk Fat Globule Epidermal Growth Factor-8, or MFG-E8.”
Cailhier’s team first showed that when there is a skin lesion, MFG-E8 calls for an anti-inflammatory and pro-reparatory reaction in the macrophages. Without this protein, the lesions heal much more slowly. Then the researchers developed a treatment by adoptive cell transfer in order to amplify the healing process.
Adoptive cell transfer consists in treating the patient using his or her own cells, which are harvested, treated, then re-injected in order to exert their action on an organ. This immunotherapeutic strategy is usually used to treat various types of cancer. This is the first time it has been shown to also be useful in reprogramming cells to facilitate healing of the skin.