Microscopy & Microtechniques

  • How Can Mussels Help with Scarring? 

How Can Mussels Help with Scarring? 

Jun 26 2017 Read 1420 Times

Humble but delicious, mussels aren’t traditionally associated with medical research. Though when a group of scientists became intrigued by the protein they use glue themselves to rocks, an exciting new theory emerged. According to the team, the steadfast ‘glue’ could be used to help prevent scarring on human skin tissue.

Preventing collagen clumps

When human skin is traumatised, the body triggers an abnormal reorganisation of collagen to fast-track healing. In a normal scenario, collagen builds in a weave-like pattern and simply knits itself back together. Though for deeper wounds it can clump and form thick bundles, which creates the fibrous tissue and raised effect that’s characteristic of scarring.

There are preventative care techniques that can help minimise scarring, but no guarantees. Now, researchers have found that when mixed with other synthesised molecules, mussel glue can support the healing process without leaving scar tissue in its wake. Furthermore, it helps the skin to form the blood vessels, oil glands and hair follicles that are typically absent from scarred skin.

Teaching skin to knit itself back together

The study was published in the journal Biomaterials, with researchers explaining that a molecule known as decorin can help to prevent collagen clumping. It actively regulates how the structural protein is laid down, and encourages it to form weaves instead of bundles. In the past, its complex structure has made it difficult to reproduce in the lab. But armed with a mussel glue component, it’s much easier to replicate.

The study has already been shown to dramatically reduce scarring in rats, with researchers applying the substance to 8-millimetre-wide wounds. After just 11 days the cuts had healed by 99%, with untreated rats healing 21% slower. The researchers then examined how the tissue had reformed, and found that mussel glue facilitated both a neat knitting pattern. Plus, growth of hair follicles, oil glands and blood vessels.   

A smooth heal for rats and pigs

While there’s a long way to go before mussel glue becomes a bona fide scar tissue treatment for humans, the team is confident that trials will continue. Pigs are next up, with human trials an eventual goal.

From scar tissue research to developing new vaccines, technology and medical advancements are intrinsically linked. This year, the UK’s national synchrotron science facility is marking an exciting double anniversary. For more information on the Diamond Light Source facility, ‘Celebrating 10 Years of the UK's Brightest Light’ spotlights its role in fighting diseases like foot-and-mouth, influenza and more.

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