The University of Southampton
Engineering and the Environment

Research project: How does the stiffness of a wound affect how it heals?

Currently Active: 
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The healing of a skin wound is a highly co-ordinated series of events involving both biochemical and biomechanical signalling. We are trying to understanding how the mechanical properties of a healing wound affects how it heals.

Project Overview

A healing wound with migrating epithelium
A healing wound

Skin is made up of several layers, the most important of which are the epidermis (outer layer) and the dermis (inner layer). When skin is injured, often a large amount of this tissue is lost. During healing, the ‘wound bed’ begins to fill up with cells and proteins, which slowly replace the missing skin.

 

 

 

Cells migrate during wound healing
Migrating cells

At the same time, new epidermis begins to grow and migrate out from the edges of the wound to form a new, outer, epidermal layer. Scientists know a great deal about the chemical mechanisms that control this, but we think that the mechanical properties – essentially how hard or soft the wound is – also affect how quickly and well this happens. We currently don’t know much about such effects.

 

 

 

 

 

Dividing skin cells

To find out, we are investigating how the stiffness of materials affects how epidermal cells behave. We are growing skin cells on synthetic materials that vary in how hard or soft they are, and we are studying how these properties affect how cells grow, differentiate and migrate. Ultimately we hope to use the information we find out to better control wound healing in the clinic.

 

 

Engineering gel topographies for simulating skin surfaces
Engineering gel topographies

 

 

Associated research themes

Bioengineering and human factors

Related research groups

Bioengineering Science

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