In 2015, a substance derived from the everyday mussel has been shown to help prevent the formation of scar tissue. Already this "mussel glue" has been successfully used in numerous clinical applications, leading to the development of an improved version that promises even better results.
Preventing scars from appearing involves an understanding of how different forces interact to produce a visible scar. Collagen formation and mechanical tension are identified as two interconnected factors that influence the final appearance of any scar.
Collagen is an important player in the process of wound healing. Found throughout our body, this protein is arranged in a basket weave formation to give strength and form to skin and underlying tissue. When injuries occur, the body tries to reconstruct this lattice by inducing cells to secrete collagen. If there is too much collagen deposited during the healing process, an unsightly scar may appear.
Our skin is basically an elastic organ covering our entire body, subject to constant push-and-pull during movement. In an open wound, tension tends to pull or keep the edges apart, and the body produces greater amounts of collagen to fill in the gap. This is the reason why wounds heal—and look—much better when these edges are held together, by keeping these deforming forces at bay. While traditionally this is done using stitches or staples, glues or adhesives have been used as alternatives that are less injurious to the skin or tissue.
Researchers have long understood that marine mollusks secrete a substance that keeps them anchored even in moving currents—essentially, waterproof glue. A strong adhesive property in a liquid environment is particularly useful when dealing with wounds because of the similar environments due to the constant interplay of cellular and fluid components during the healing process.
Taking this one step further, an article from the New Scientist reports how South Korean scientists intend to fortify their previous formulation by combining it with a chemical mediator that can actually slow down scar formation.
Decorin is a protein found in the human body that has a complex role in the process of wound healing. Decorin remodels the final appearance of the scar by interacting with the collagen fibrils. Scars and keloids are found to be deficient in decorin, which may account for the unregulated buildup of collagen. In controlled experiments, decorin has been shown to inhibit scar formation, letting the ‘normal’ healing processes proceed.
By incorporating a synthetic analog of decorin into their previously formulated glue, the researchers hope to further prevent scar formation by not only slowing down mechanical tension but regulating the deposition of excess collagen. Preliminary laboratory studies have shown promise in this regard, and if proven to be effective, this improved version of the glue could one day replace the surgical needle or stapler, with the added benefit of no visible scar.
If indeed viable, this surgical glue will revolutionize the way wounds are treated. Closing them without stitches with proteins that actively remodel the collagen may mean the end of that ugly scar.