A report published in the Journal of Leukocyte Biology posits that small electrical currents could activate certain immune cells to jumpstart or speed wound healing. According to a press release from the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, the discovery could aid people with illnesses that cause wounds to heal slowly or prevent them from healing.
“In some instances, such as diabetes, the body’s ability to heal is compromised and wounds can become infected,” Heather M. Wilson, PhD, senior lecturer at University of Aberdeen in Aberdeen, United Kingdom, said in the release. “In instances where there is a lack of macrophages present, the application of ‘synthetic’ electric fields using clinical devices would assist the repair process, not only by attracting macrophages to damaged sites to support healing but also by changing their properties to facilitate wound repair and, importantly, to reduce infection.”
Wilson and colleagues exposed microphages, which originate from human blood, to electrical fields of a similar strength to that generated in injured skin. They found when they applied the current, the macrophages moved directionally and enhanced phagocytosis. The electric fields also “enhanced the uptake and clearance of a variety of targets” that promote inflammation and impair healing, including latex beads, expended white blood cells and the fungal pathogen, Candida albicans, according to the release. In addition, the electric fields selectively augmented the production of protein modulators associated with the healing process, which showed the response of macrophages to naturally generated electrical signals can boost their healing ability.
“The field of bioelectromagnetics is beginning to reveal how we might use intentionally directed electrical or magnetic fields to provoke specific biological responses,” John Wherry, PhD, deputy editor of the Journal of Leukocyte Biology, said. “This new work identifies previously unappreciated opportunities to tune immune system function with electrical fields and has potentially wide-reaching implications for wound repair for a variety of diseases where macrophages play a role, including infectious disease, cancer and even obesity.”
Wilson HM, et al. J Leukocyte Biol. 2015;doi:10.1189/jlb.3A0815-390R.