Updated 30 May 2014

What's behind scarring

Certain kinds of fibroblasts, the cells that form basic tissue structures, play a major role in scar formation, fat accumulation and inflammation, says new research.

Certain kinds of fibroblasts, the cells that form basic tissue structures, play a major role in scar formation, fat accumulation and inflammation, says a University of Rochester Medical Center study in the October issue of the American Journal of Pathology.

New light shed on the role of fibroblasts
The finding offers new information about the role of fibroblasts, all of which were previously assumed to be little more than scaffolding on which more important cells would climb. This new information may help explain why some people suffer from unexplained internal scarring around their vital organs, which can result in serious diseases of the eyes, heart, lungs, intestines or kidneys.

The study may also help doctors better understand why some accident victims and surgical patients scar easily and take longer to heal than others. The findings could lead the way to new drugs that stop unhealthy scars or fatty tissue from developing.

A useful diagnostic tool?
This is the first clear demonstration that certain kinds of human fibroblasts can develop into scar-type or fat-type cells, lead author Richard Phipps, professor of environmental medicine, microbiology and immunology, oncology and paediatrics, says in a prepared statement.

In fact, our results show that some fibroblasts may prove to be a useful diagnostic tool by providing clues to the severity of a disease or who might be prone to abnormal wound healing, for example, Phipps says.

In laboratory experiments with fibroblasts from human uterine and eye tissue, Phipps and his team investigated subsets of fibroblasts to determine whether they were capable of becoming specialised cells called myofibroblasts or lipofibroblasts.

Active after injury or trauma
Normally inconspicuous in healthy tissue, myofibroblasts become active after an injury or trauma. When they're uncontrolled, myofibroblasts result in fibrosis of the liver, kidneys, lungs and heart. Lipofibroblasts develop into fat cells and lead to thyroid eye disease and harmful accumulation of fatty tissue in the liver, spleen and bone marrow.

In this study, Phipps and his team discovered surface markers that identify which fibroblasts have the potential to change into myofibroblasts or lipofibroblasts. They now plan to more closely investigate the pathways for this cell transformation. - (HealthDayNews)

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Dr Suretha Kannenberg holds a degree in Medicine and a Masters in Dermatology from the University of Stellenbosch. She is employed as a consultant dermatologist by Stellenbosch University and Tygerberg Academic Hospital, where she is involved in clinical duties and the training of medical students and dermatology residents. Her areas of interest and research include vitiligo, eczema and acne. She also performs limited private practice work in the Northern suburbs of Cape Town in general and cosmetic dermatology.

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