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Heat heals. New research by Hee-Young Park, a MED research associate professor, Tania Phillips, a MED professor, and their colleagues in the departments of dermatology and biochemistry at the School of Medicine reveals that heat plays a positive role in healing chronic leg wounds. Their research establishes that temperature affects the cell cycle in which new cells are stimulated to regenerate in the dermal level of the skin (the layer just below the outer, epidermal layer) to close an open wound.

Nonhealing wounds are a significant health problem, affecting approximately six million people in the United States and costing billions of dollars in treatment and lost workdays. These numbers are expected to increase dramatically, driven by rising numbers of elderly accompanied by an increasing incidence of diabetes and other health conditions associated with developing chronic wounds.

Unlike fluid from an acute wound, which actually helps healing, chronic wound fluid (CWF) has been shown to inhibit the growth of the cells most likely to rapidly produce new tissue. It appears that CWF does this by suppressing the production of certain proteins -- pRb, cyclin D1, CDK4, and p21 -- vital to the normal cell cycle in which dermal cells reproduce themselves. In vitro experiments by Park and her colleagues tested the effects of heat therapy on developing dermal cells cultured with CWF. Using a noncontact thermal wound therapy system, the researchers warmed the CWF to 35 degrees Celsius (95 degrees Fahrenheit) -- just below body temperature -- for up to 72 hours.

They found that not only did heat therapy allow healthy new cells to grow, but also that heating was associated with normal levels of the proteins necessary to a normal cell cycle.

This research was reported in the December 2001 issue of the journal Wounds.

"Research Briefs" is written by Joan Schwartz in the Office of the Provost. To read more about BU research, visit


15 May 2003
Boston University
Office of University Relations