Researchers recently identified a molecular “switch” mechanism that takes place during successful wound care healing. The discovery is likely to aid in the understanding of how wounds get better, and fuel preventive treatments.

According to investigators, the switch controls the migration of skin cells, allowing wounds to close and eventually heal. This discovery could have implications for nursing home residents with diabetic ulcers and other wounds that can require months or even years to heal, they said.

The scientists discovered that a tiny “micro-RNA” molecule, called miR-198, controls several different processes that help wound healing. It does this by keeping them switched off in healthy skin. When skin is wounded, the manufacture of miR-198 quickly stops and the levels of miR-198 drop, switching on many wound healing processes.

“Moving forward, we hope to translate this research into improved patient outcomes,” said Prabha Sampath, M.D., the team’s lead investigator. Full findings appear in the journal Nature.

Chronic wounds in patients with diabetes are a major global health burden and the most common cause of lower extremity amputations. Chronic wounds also tend to affect the elderly and disabled patients, especially those confined to a wheelchair or bed.