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Protein therapy could improve treatment of chronic wounds

Ohio State researchers are exploring a novel protein’s potential in healing chronic wounds, a persistent public health issue affecting patients suffering from diabetes, cancer and burns.

Materials Science and Engineering Associate Professor Jianjun Guan and Ohio State Professor of Surgery Jianjie Ma are co-leading the study, which recently received a five-year, $2.4 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Schematic illustrating the role of the MG53 protein in wound healing and scar formation.

The research team will test the hypothesis that the MG53 protein facilitates healing of chronic wounds by enhancing cell membrane repair and epithelial stem cell function. Ma has conducted extensive research on MG53’s healing capabilities in other parts of the body, including kidney, heart, lung and skeletal muscle.

Guan is developing a polymer hydrogel material for sustained delivery of the MG53 protein to the wound site in order to enhance the effectiveness of the treatment. Due to the short half-life of MG53 in blood circulation, direct administration of the protein to the wound or indirect delivery by intravascular injection are not ideal delivery options.

A preliminary study of the hydrogel MG53 application to a wound site showed increased healing rates.

Jianjun Guan

“The polymer is a temperature-sensitive jelly-like material, so it has similar properties of native tissue,” explained Guan. “It’s applied as a liquid solution, then responds only to the wound environment. Once applied, it can respond very quickly—within 10 seconds—to become a solid material. And the protein releases gradually from the wound to promote healing.”

Guan said their research will also focus on optimizing the protein release rate and explore the molecular mechanism behind MG53’s function in wound healing.

Wound care is a growing challenge due to increasing health care costs, an aging population and a sharp rise in the incidence of diseases such as diabetes and obesity that contribute to poor wound healing. Currently, there is no effective treatment for chronic wounds.

If successful, the proposed treatment will impact patients with diabetes and cancer, who often suffer from compromised tissue repair. Guan said he hopes the material can also lead to scar-less Caesarean sections for women and improve treatment for burn victims as well.

“For patients with deep burns, doctors usually transplant healthy skin from another part of the body to cover the wound,” he said. “The problem is you basically create a new wound, but that’s the gold standard in clinics right now. It’s a big problem because we don’t currently have any product in the market that can efficiently solve this issue.”

This research is supported by the National Institute on Aging of the National Institutes of Health under award number R01AG056919.

by Meggie Biss, College of Engineering Communications | biss.11@osu.edu