Algae???? You know, that green stuff you see in bodies of water?? Did you know that researchers believe it could be key to assisting healing in diabetes? Find out more below!
Diabetes mellitus is a group of conditions where blood sugar levels are too high due to faulty production and processing of insulin. Insulin is a chemical that lowers the levels of the sugar glucose in blood. People with diabetes commonly struggle with severe wound infections that just don’t heal. This is because they have low angiogenesis, which is the formation of new blood capillaries. Angiogenesis is very important for wound healing, without it, wounds will not close or heal.
It can be quite dangerous for people with diabetes to have long-term open wounds, and many people have their limbs amputated to save their lives. In fact, every 30 seconds, someone in the world gets their leg amputated due to diabetes.
Scientists have been researching different ways to help people living with diabetes to manage and help heal wounds better. One new idea is using algae.
In Changsha, China, scientists have been researching using Synechococcus elongatus, the bacteria responsible for blue-green algae, to help improve wound healing.
They first ran tests on wounded mice. Some had their wounds treated with S. elongatus, and some were allowed to heal normally. Twelve days later, images were taken of mice’s skin after treatment with S. elongatus, and compared to images of the wounded skin that had not been treated. The skin of mice that received S. elongatus had many more new blood vessels compared to the mice that didn’t get treated.
The scientists then went on to test the effects of S. elongatus on human microvascular endothelial cells (HMEC), or the cells found in your skin that are involved in blood vessel formation. But don’t worry, these were cultured cells in a petri dish, no humans were harmed in this experiment. Interestingly, HMEC were found to multiply, move and form basic capillaries when they were treated with S. elongatus.
Why does this happen? The scientists had a theory: extracellular vesicles.
What’s that mean you ask? Cells can release little packages from themselves, called vesicles. These contain a variety of different things: DNA, nutrients, waste and proteins to name a few. They are used by the cell to transfer something to a neighbour cell, store things, or get rid of things.
Anyway, the scientists thought that the release of extracellular vesicles was responsible for the increased healing and growth that they had been observing. To test it out, they stopped vesicle production in S. elongatus cells, and added the modified bacteria to human skin cell cultures. After 24 hours, when they came back, they saw that the HMEC cultures had not multiplied, moved, or formed the basic capillaries that they had seen last time. Their thoughts were indeed correct, the extracellular vesicles did help improve cell healing.
Though this is a recent discovery, hopefully in the future, we will able to use algae as a treatment for wounds and help prevent limb amputation in those with diabetes.
About Cristina: Cristina studies a concurrent degree in Science, majoring in Microbiology and Immunology, and Genetics; and Health and Medical Science, majoring in Medical Science. Once she’s done with her undergraduate study, Cristina wants to research diseases. When she’s not studying, Cristina is leading the Adelaide University Spanish Club, tending to her plants or playing video games.