Ability to heal depends on time that wound occurs

scar healingScientists are always working to understand more about the human body, and every now and again they have another breakthrough, their hard work pays off and they discover something new and fascinating. That’s exactly what happened recently for scientists working in the Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge.

Scientists at the Cambridge-based research centre had been investigating whether or not the healing rate of wounds was affected by the time of the day or night the wound occurred. This particular study was undertaken at a specialist burns unit in Manchester, where scientists looked at the rate of healing of burns sustained during the day time, compared with those sustained overnight.

They were amazed to discover that “wounds healed twice as fast if sustained during daytime hours rather than at night.” So the time when an injury occurs can have a significant impact on the body’s ability to recover.

Why does time of day make a difference to scar healing?

With this data in hand, scientists have been able to establish that genes found within a particular skin cell called fibroblasts have the ability to switch on/off in the day and night. It is the fibroblasts that get to work to heal a wound if they detect that something has happened to the skin. The way that fibroblasts work is that when an injury is detected, they rush to the site of impact/injury and begin forming an intricate web which helps the skin cells bond, regenerate and reproduce.

In this ground-breaking burns research, scientists found that burns that occurred during the day time took an average of 17 days to heal, whereas similar burns that occurred overnight took an average of 28 days.

Scientists believe that these marked differences are due to the body’s circadian rhythm, which is “a 24 hour cycle in the physiological process of living beings…in a strict sense, the circadian rhythms are endogenously generated (created automatically by the body) although they can be modulated by external cues such as sunlight and temperature.”

Implications for the medical community

Research such as this is exciting, but particularly so for cosmetic surgeons such as Mr Alan Park. Cosmetic surgeons have a detailed knowledge of how to optimise the healing process naturally and with the aid of medicine currently available, as the vast majority of cosmetic surgery procedures result in some form of incision that will need to heal once the operation is completed. Although all planned procedures take place during the day, reconstructive work is carried out on patients who have sustained injuries around the clock.

Any advances on the understanding of how the body heals is welcomed by the scientific community, who try and make any healing experience as smooth as possible for patients. If drugs can be produced that trick the body into thinking that a wound occurred in the day time, rather than overnight, this could have significant improvement in how well the body fights the wound and approaches the healing process.