Research ArticleWound Healing

A bioengineered living cell construct activates an acute wound healing response in venous leg ulcers

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Science Translational Medicine  04 Jan 2017:
Vol. 9, Issue 371, eaaf8611
DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.aaf8611

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Activating healing in chronic wounds

Effective therapies for chronic venous leg ulcers (VLUs) remain elusive, in part, because of the incomplete understanding of the pathophysiology of nonhealing wounds. Stone et al. conducted a postmarket clinical trial using transcriptomics to understand the mechanisms of action of an FDA-approved bilayered living cellular construct (BLCC) in nonhealing VLUs. After 1 week of BLCC treatment in addition to standard of care compression therapy, nonhealing VLUs showed changes in inflammation and gene expression characteristic of acutely healing wounds. This study provides mechanistic insight into how the acute healing process can be activated by a cell therapy in chronic nonhealing wounds.


Chronic nonhealing venous leg ulcers (VLUs) are widespread and debilitating, with high morbidity and associated costs; about $15 billion is spent annually on the care of VLUs in the United States. Despite this, there is a paucity of treatments for VLUs because of the lack of pathophysiologic insight into ulcer development as well as the lack of knowledge regarding biologic actions of existing VLU-targeted therapies. The bioengineered bilayered living cellular construct (BLCC) skin substitute is a U.S. Food and Drug Administration–approved biologic treatment for healing VLUs. To elucidate the mechanisms through which the BLCC promotes healing of chronic VLUs, we conducted a clinical trial (NCT01327937) in which patients with nonhealing VLUs were treated with either standard of care (compression therapy) or the BLCC together with standard of care. Tissue was collected from the VLU edge before and 1 week after treatment, and the samples underwent comprehensive microarray mRNA and protein analyses. Ulcers treated with the BLCC skin substitute displayed three distinct transcriptomic patterns, suggesting that BLCC induced a shift from a nonhealing to a healing tissue response, involving modulation of inflammatory and growth factor signaling, keratinocyte activation, and attenuation of Wnt/β-catenin signaling. In these ways, BLCC application orchestrated a shift from the chronic nonhealing ulcer microenvironment to a distinctive healing milieu resembling that of an acute, healing wound. Our findings provide in vivo evidence in VLU patients of pathways that can be targeted in the design of new therapies to promote healing of chronic VLUs.

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