Communiqué de presse 

Wound healing: discovery of a new therapeutic strategy against hypertrophic scarring

Wound healing is a common phenomenon whose mechanisms appear, at least superficially, well known. However, some of the basic processes leading to wound closure remain at present mysterious. Moreover, we cannot explain the development of several complications such as hypertrophic scarring, that result in deformations esthetically and functionally very damaging and for which at present no treatment is known. A team of the Department of Pathology of University of Geneva publishes this month in the Journal of Cell Biology an article showing that a peptide sequence of alpha-smooth muscle actin can prevent and possibly treat hypertrophic scarring. This promising discovery has been patented by an important pharmaceutical industry.

Wound healing appears generally a banal event, but in a certain proportion of cases it evolves inappropriately in hypertrophic scars resulting in skin and organ deformations. This is due to an excess of wound contraction, a phenomenon that generally helps to close the wound. Hypertrophic scarring is observed frequently in burned patients.

For the past 30 years, Professor Giulio Gabbiani and his team are interested in the role of myofibroblasts in wound contraction. Myofibroblasts, specialized fibroblasts neo expressing the protein alpha-smooth muscle actin, are instrumental in wound contraction during normal wound healing. Tissue shortening is then stabilized by synthesis of extracellular matrix, collagen in particular. More precisely, alpha-smooth muscle actin within myofibroblasts becomes organized in filamentous bundles, called stress fibers, that allow the retractile movement producing wound contraction. During hypertrophic scarring, skin deformations depend on the inappropriate action of these stress fibers that for unknown reasons persist even after the epithelialization of the wound.

The team of the University of Geneva has isolated a sequence of alpha-smooth muscle actin that once injected in isolated myofibroblasts inhibits their contraction. Moreover, the same sequence applied to an experimental wound diminishes significantly wound contraction and skin deformation. Based on these results Giulio Gabbiani and his team suggest that this alpha-smooth muscle actin sequence has a potential therapeutic activity. The pharmaceutical industry UCB-Bioproducts has patented this sequence and is working on the production of commercial preparation. The clinical tests should start approximately at the beginning of next year. This discovery is the outcome of a 30 year long research.

Professor Giulio Gabbiani is also publishing in the May issue of Nature Reviews Molecular Cell Biology a review article on the biology of the myofibroblast and its role in normal and pathological wound healing.

For further information, please contact:
Giulio Gabbiani, tél. +41 22 702 57 42