No More Slow-to-Heal Wounds


By: Russell Phillips

Researchers at Loyola University have discovered a group of immune system cells called natural killer T (NKT) cells that slow the wound healing process. Their findings pave the way for potential new treatments to accelerate the healing process in slow-to-heal wounds that can occur in people with autoimmune disorders such as type 1 diabetes.

NKT cells are a group of immune system cells that have the properties of both natural killer (NK) cells and T cells. NKT cells are beneficial in many ways, by killing tumor cells and cells infected by a virus. But they also travel to wound sites and slow the healing process.  By inactivating NKT cells with special antibodies, scientists hope to improve the healing process in those who may have slow-to-heal wounds. 

In their study using mice, healing was significantly faster in a special breed of mice that lacked NKT cells than it was in normal mice that had NKT cells. The findings are reported online, in advance of print, in the Journal of Surgical Research. Elizabeth Kovacs, PhD, leads the team that made the discovery.

NKT cells may play a more significant role in type 1 diabetes than that of slowing the healing process.  Previous studies in other labs have implicated NKT cells in the actual progression of type 1 diabetes.  In fact, agonists of NKT cells (chemicals that can mimic the action of these cells) have been successful in preventing diabetes in mice predisposed to the condition.  The exact mechanism of action is somewhat unclear, but research continues to search for the answers.

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