Setting the stage for faster healing

  • Braunhut Lab

    The UML lab team, clockwise from left front: Soumya Vemuri, Dr. Susan Braunhut, Vikram Shankar, Matt Belmonte, Dr. Ekaterina Vorotnikova, Anita Arun and Donna McIntosh; not pictured, Doanh Mai and Rachel Mendes.
    Photo courtesy of Dr. Susan Braunhut

  • Mouse

    Photo courtesy of Dr. Ellen Heber-Katz

At the University of Massachusetts-Lowell, Susan Braunhut and her research team study the regenerative potential of extracellular matrix (ECM), a form of cell scaffolding made of collagen. Braunhut, a professor of biological sciences, is trying to understand how the
matrix can induce mammalian cells to express genes promoting limb regeneration. "If matrix is degraded, it can release bioactive molecules that signal the body is injured," says Braunhut, who believes the ECM draws progenitor cells to a wound site to induce regeneration.

Braunhut is interested in how progenitor cells are directed to form a blastema, a mass of stem-like cells. Already, it has been shown that ECM molecules have potent regenerative potential. Braunhut's team applied them to large flank wounds in mice and found that these wounds
close in half the time. And instead of seeing the growth of scar tissue, the team is instead seeing the replacement of all dermal and epidermal tissues, as well as nerve and muscle -- all the ingredients of functional tissue. "These matrix derived products, when applied to a full thickness wound, can cause true regeneration," says Braunhut.

The team is now experimenting with digit amputation in mice. Immediately after amputation, her team does palm injections with ECM molecules. The experiment has demonstrated evidence of digit regrowth, with hair follicles and new vasculature.

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