A healing protein that is present in fetuses but absent in people with diabetes could be used to treat complicated wounds in people with the condition.

The “exciting new approach” in harnessing fetal repair processes could help reduce the complications, such as amputation, that arise from difficult-to-treat wounds in people with diabetes.

The protein nonselenocysteine-containing phospholipid hydroperoxide glutathione peroxidase (NPGPx) is found in fetuses but is mainly inactive in adults and missing in adult people with diabetes.

Researcher Dr Chandan K. Sen, from Indiana University School of Medicine, said: “We already know from previous studies at other institutions that if a fetus is wounded, it can regenerate the tissue, or repair it to be like new.

“But after birth, such regenerative wound healing ability is lost. Healing in adults is relatively inefficient often associated with undesirable scar formation.

“Nature essentially hides this fetal regenerative repair pathway in the adult body. We spotted its absence, and then activated it to improve healing of diabetic wounds.”

As part of their study, researchers used tissue transfer technology to dispense the NPGPx gene to wounds.

Dr Sen said: “This is an exciting new approach to harness fetal repair mechanisms to close diabetic wounds in adults. The study results show that while NPGPx has been known to be abundant in the fetal skin, but not after birth, it can be reactivated in the skin after an injury. We look forward to continued study aiming to achieve a more complete regenerative repair by improving our understanding of how NPGPx functions.”

Read the full study in Molecular Therapy.

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