It may sound like a Nancy Drew Mystery, but the case of the disappearing ear holes is the true story of Wistar Institute researcher Ellen Heber-Katz, who accidentally "stumbled onto" a gene that could aid in wound-healing, according to Scientific American. Heber-Katz, who reported her findings in PNAS, says she first became aware of this potential gene in 1995 while working with mice to model lupus. She had been poking small holes in their ears to distinguish them from one another, but noticed that the holes kept closing without leaving any scars. After confirming that holes in the ears of mice never close naturally, she began examining the cells filling the holes. She saw that the healer cells from the lupus mice de-differentiated, were multinucleated, and expressed stem cell markers. But when compared to their non-healing counterparts, Heber-Katz found that they did not express p21. To confirm her theory, Heber-Katz used p21-deficient knock-out mice; when she punched holes in their ears, the puncture wounds disappeared. But there's still much research to be done, she says, to determine p21 regulation, and how to effectively block its expression — in an effort to regenerate tissue — without disturbing the cell cycle.
The Case of the Disappearing Ear Holes
Mar 24, 2010