Nanotechnology solutions lead to unprecedented healing of scar tissue.

At a glance:

  • Excessive collagen production following a burn leads to dense, fibrous and inelastic scars
  • Slowing down the action of enzymes, like lysyl oxidases, can reverse scar tissue formation
  • A team of scientists are developing nanotechnology solutions for unprecedented skin recovery

 

Burns are a nasty global health problem, affecting over 11 million people every year, many of whom end up with lifelong scars. Or worse. According to World Health Organisation (WHO) statistics, more than 265,000 people die each year from burn related injuries. In Australia, according to the Fiona Wood foundation, more than 200,000 people seek medical attention for burn related injuries every year and half of these injuries occur in children.

Excessive collagen production during normal scar healing causes dense, fibrous and inelastic scar tissue

Severe burns often leave lifelong scars of stiff, damaged skin. After a severe burn, our skin starts the healing process with a complex cascade of enzymes and chemicals heading the process. One of these enzymes, lysyl oxidase, is in charge of crosslinking collagen fibres, the building blocks of the growing scar that will replace the burned skin.

But the process is not perfect and there is usually an excessive amount of collagen produced, resulting in the dense, fibrous and inelastic scar that normally forms over the injured skin. Now, a team at UWA’s OzBioNano research group, led by Professor Swaminatha Iyer, is working towards a new approach that could make a big difference in the healing process.

Slowing down lysyl oxidases to improve scar tissue

Dr Tristan Clemons, a Research Scientist on the BioNano Lab team, is using nanotechnology to deliver compounds that could lead to unprecedented skin recovery following severe burns. “We want to speed up the wound healing process following a burn. This will ensure there is less chance of infection and less chance of excessive scar tissue forming down the line. We also want to look at ways we can modulate scar tissue following an injury to make it more like healthy tissue and this is where our lysyl oxidase work is showing great promise.” says Dr Clemons. 

Dr Tristan Clemons in the lab.

Image:  Dr Clemons working on the transmission electron microscope.

One key aspect Dr Clemons is pursuing involves slowing down the action of lysyl oxidase and nanoparticles may be key for reaching this goal. These nanoparticles are about 100 nanometres in diameter, or about 1000 times smaller than the width of a human hair, and can be loaded with a lysyl oxidase inhibitor. The nanoparticles are made of a porous material, so the drug will be easily released as soon as it reaches the injury site.

In his experiments, Dr Clemons applies the nanoparticles directly on a target tissue and they are so tiny that once they come into contact with the cells the nanoparticles are quickly absorbed, leading to an efficient release of drug. Eventually, the nanoparticles will be removed through normal processes within the cell meant to remove foreign objects, but by then, the deed of delivering the target drug has been achieved.

Nanoparticles deliver unprecedented healing of scar tissue

“These nanoparticles will allow for tracking, enhanced delivery and targeting to the site of excess lysyl oxidase activity to in turn maximise the effect the drug has in altering the scar tissue,” explains Dr Clemons. The approach, according to Clemons, provides an exciting prospect for the treatment of scar tissue and has the potential to modulate the scar tissue to be more like healthy skin,” he says.

Schematic of a nanoparticle over layed on some fluorescent images the background is collagen staining from our in vitro assay and the one the arrow is pointing to is depicting our nanoparticles (red) taken up by a skin cell (nucleus stained in blue).

Image: Schematic of a nanoparticle: the background is collagen staining from in vitro assay. The object the arrow is pointing to depicts the nanoparticles (red) taken up by a skin cell (nucleus stained in blue). 

So far, the team at OzBioNano has been successful at designing a nanoparticle system capable of hosting chemical compounds such as lysyl oxidase inhibitors that enhance the wound healing process. They have also managed to use these nanoparticles to deliver the drugs to an in vitro system – basically a group of cultured skin cells, used to test the effect on the collagen deposition by these cells in a ‘scar like’ environment. “The next step will be to progress to in vivo systems, testing animal models that simulate the damage caused by a burn injury, a necessary step to hopefully one day using this system in human burn injuries,” says Dr Clemons.

Nanoparticles are also being used to tackle Cystic Fibrosis, cancer and heart disease. Aside from their work on scar healing, the team at OzBioNano is also using nanoparticles to tackle other conditions, such as Cystic Fibrosis, cancer and heart disease.