Scientists discover genetic factor that can repair adult skin like a baby’s

Scientists in the US have discovered a genetic factor that could play a pivotal role in the future of anti-ageing skin treatments.

The researchers at Washington State University identified a factor similar to a molecular switch in the skin of baby mice that controls the formation of hair follicles in their first week of life.

This switch is mostly turned off after the skin forms and remains off in adult tissue. But when activated in specialised cells in adult mice, their skin was able to heal wounds without scarring, and included fur that could make goose bumps, an ability lost in adult human scars.

The researchers said the study could have broad implications both clinically and cosmetically because one of the main characteristics of scars is the absence of hair follicles, indicating that their regeneration in a wound may be a critical step in achieving scar-less skin repair.

Through taking the innate ability of neonatal skin and transferring it to older skin, it was able to regenerate like that of the young, suggesting the secret to human skin regeneration can be found by studying our own very early stages of development.

“We can still look to other organisms for inspiration, but we can also learn about regeneration by looking at ourselves,” said Ryan Driskell, an assistant professor in WSU’s School of Molecular Biosciences. “We do generate new tissue, once in our life, as we are growing.”

Inducing skin and hair follicle regeneration instead of scarring

The discovery was made using a technique called single cell RNA sequencing, which was used to compare genes and cells in developing and adult skin.

In developing skin, the researchers identified a transcription factor-protein that binds to DNA and can influence whether genes are turned on or off.

The factor the researchers identified, called Lef1, was associated with the developing cells in the layer of skin just below the surface, the papillary dermis, which gives the skin its elasticity and youthful appearance.

Activating this factor in specialised compartments of adult mouse skin enhanced the skin’s ability to regenerate wounds with reduced scarring and new hair follicles that could make goose bumps.

The team from Washington State University said a lot of work still needs to be done before this discovery in mice can be applied to human skin, but suggested that the study marks a fundamental advancement in understanding of the wound healing and age-prevention processes.

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