How wounds heal – and cancers grow

January 15, 2024

But she soon realised that animal testing was essential if she was to have any hope of fully understanding the wound healing process. “In the case of wound healing, these processes come to a halt once the wound has been repaired. She is confident that cell culture will yield even more useful insights over the coming decades. “The balance will tilt more towards cell culture and away from animal testing,” she predicts. Scientists already have access to complex and sophisticated cell culture models that consist of both dermal and epidermal layers and that even encompass different skin cell types.

“I wanted to stick solely to in vitro testing rather than using animals in my research,” she says. But she soon realised that animal testing was essential if she was to have any hope of fully understanding the wound healing process. She also knew that if she wanted the results of her research to benefit patients with impaired wound healing, she would need to collaborate closely with clinicians in hospitals.

Out of control

In further tests on mice with small skin tumours, Werner was also able to show that increased activin levels stimulate tumour growth and that the cancer cells increasingly invade the surrounding tissue. “We see many of the same biochemical and cellular processes taking place both in wound healing and in the development of multiple types of cancer,” she says. “In the case of wound healing, these processes come to a halt once the wound has been repaired. But in cancer, they spiral out of control, and malignant tumours harness the mechanisms involved in wound healing in order to stimulate their own growth.”

Through her collaboration with dermatologists at the university hospitals in Zurich and Lausanne, Werner regularly receives biopsies from skin cancer patients for use in her research. Experiments with this tissue showed that tumours that grow aggressively also produce excessive levels of activin, and that this activates the same biochemical processes.

“To get the best results in biomedicine, you have to combine as many techniques as possible,” says Werner. “We need to study these mechanisms in human tissue – that is, in biopsies – and in good cell culture systems with human cells, but it’s also important to study them in animals.”

Scientists all over the world are currently making huge efforts to optimise and improve cell culture models. Werner, too, is involved in this research through Switzerland’s interdisciplinary skin research project Skintegrity.ch. She is confident that cell culture will yield even more useful insights over the coming decades. “The balance will tilt more towards cell culture and away from animal testing,” she predicts. Scientists already have access to complex and sophisticated cell culture models that consist of both dermal and epidermal layers and that even encompass different skin cell types. “We’re already using these advanced methods wherever we can in our research,” she says.

The source of this news is from ETH Zurich

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