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Researchers discover a new defensive mechanism against bacterial wound infections

Researchers at Charité–Universitätsmedizin Berlin have discovered that interleukin 6 may be used to prevent wound infections. Results of the research were published online ahead of print in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (Sept. 23, 2019).

Using the hypothesis that skin’s host defence against pathogens might include mast cells, Dr. Frank Siebenhaar’s research team decided to investigate to what extent mast cells might be involved in the skin’s host response to bacterial wound infection and in wound healing.

Dr. Siebenhaar, a professor in the Department of Dermatology, Venereology and Allergology on Campus Charité Mitte, and a team of researchers used an animal model to discover that the mast cells’ bacteria-killing effect is a product of the release of the messenger molecule interleukin 6. This molecule stimulates cells within the superficial layer of the skin, prompting them to release ‘antimicrobial peptides,’ which kill bacteria, viruses and fungi.

“Our study has demonstrated the nature and extent of mast cell involvement in the skin’s host defence mechanism against bacteria,” said Dr. Siebenhaar in a press release. “This helps us to better understand the significance of mast cells in the human body and how their role goes beyond that of a mere mediator of allergic reactions.”

The researchers found the application of interleukin 6 to the wound, prior to infection, resulted in an improved defence against bacteria, even in animals with intact immune systems.

Additionally, the researchers were able to replicate this effect on human tissue.

“It is in theory feasible that the application of interleukin 6, or of substances with a similar mode of action, could be used to prevent wound infections,” explained Dr. Siebenhaar. “As a next step, we will explore the functions of both mast cells and interleukin 6 in patients with chronic wound-healing problems. We will be going into greater detail in the hope of working towards a new and preferably antibiotics-free wound treatment method.”

Skin wound colonization by bacteria or other pathogens can lead to severe inflammation. In the worst cases, this can result in septicemia or amputation. Growing numbers of bacteria are developing antibiotic resistance resulting in treatment options becoming limited.

The discovery made by Dr. Siebenhaar and his team of researchers may prevent wound infection without the need for antibiotics.

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