MEDICINE: Perfect skin promised in a scar-free future

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The Independent Online
Scars from burns and wounds may become a thing of the past within a decade, say scientists who are close to understanding the precise mechanisms that govern the healing of skin.

Even five years from now, doctors could be able to speed up the healing process, and ensure that hair and sweat glands grow back at the site of a wound, according to Paul Martin, at the department of anatomy at University College Hospital, London.

The key lies in an understanding of embryo development, says Dr Martin. In a review of current work on the topic in the journal Science, he notes that scientists now understand why injuries to embryos do not leave scars - unlike in adults, where any wound deep enough to puncture the outer, epidermal layer of skin leaves a permanent mark. The key difference is that in embryos, the damaged cells and their surroundings handle the regeneration, whereas in adults, cells from the immune system called macrophages promote regrowth. However, the macrophages are less controlled than the original cells in controlling regrowth - leading to the excessive but unspecialised tissue that forms a scar. Dr Martin believes that doctors will eventually be able to control the restoration process by using the same chemical "signals" that embryos use on wounds.