[Excerpt from New Scientist magazine]

Directed regeneration a reality?

Recent research in wound healing has progressed from surprising to shocking - both literally and figuratively.  Based on a phenomenon initially described in the 18th century, but under-examined until just a few years ago (To heal a wound, turn up the voltage), it was shown that electric fields and currents had a significant - indeed, vital - role in the wound healing process.

The 2006 study demonstrated that repair cells are guided to wounds in part by the disruption in the natural electrical dynamics of the cellular matrix.  Additionally, the researchers showed that by varying the intensity and frequency of applied electrical fields, the healing process could be accelerated or halted completely.

In a new paper, Dr. Renaud Beauxbarrie of the École Politechnique d'Alsace-Lorraine has shown that by adding certain synthetic proteins and carefully managing a combination of applied electrical fields, the healing process can be accelerated exponentially.

In controlled animal testing, incisions have been completely healed without scarring in less than 24 hours.  Dr. Beauxbarrie is confident that with further refinements, even this near-unbelievable time can theoretically be reduced to hours or even minutes.

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Currently the process has only been tested in animals, and only for skin and muscle injuries.  But due to the startling promise of the initial results, human testing is due to begin within two months, and additional animal studies are underway for healing damage to bone, nerve tissue and even neural tissue.

The synthetic protein is a new derivative of IGF-1 and -2.  It both acts as a resource catalyst for cellular regeneration and enhances the electric field variations applied.

"This is not a panacea or 'magic'," Dr. Beauxbarrie cautioned in a recent interview, "Proper adjustment of the applied fields based on the observed healing progression is critical to avoid uncontrolled proliferation."  Indeed, reported adverse reactions to suboptimal applied fields included both permanent physiological disfigurement and cancer.

Still, if human trials are positive, this could mark the beginning of a new era in trauma treatment.  The university has applied for patents on the process and the synthetic protein, and several biomedical concerns have already expressed interest in licensing, even in advance of proven human applications.