University of Manchester scientists have cast new light on how our skin repairs itself, bringing the possibility of regeneration of the organ a step closer.

The study team, funded by the Medical Research Council and Helmut Horten Foundation, showed the activation of specific parts of the DNA leading to better division of human skin cells. The study is published in Nucleic Acid Research.

Two transcription factors –proteins that bind the DNA – were able to enhance a natural process of skin cell division, a desirable outcome in regenerative medicine.

In normal conditions, one in every fourth cell isolated from the inner layer of the skin divides but the team achieved an increase by 20-25%.

The effect was achieved without the addition of growth factors. These naturally occurring but difficult to extract molecules are currently used to improve regeneration of skin, joints, and other frequently damaged organs.

Instead of growth factors, scientists used sulpharaphane, a compound found in broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cabbages.

Sulforaphane activates the binding of transcriptions factors to specific parts of the DNA, which controlled cell division and is one of a number of compounds that can work in this way.

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