In a breakthrough discovery, University of Notre Dame researchers have identified enzymes that can harm or help the way that wounds heal.

Investigators searched for metalloproteinases in the wounds of healthy and diabetic mice. Gelatinases, a class of enzymes, have been implicated in a host of human diseases from cancer to cardiovascular conditions. 

Scientist Mayland Chang, Ph.D., has been researching activation of MMPs, particularly gelatinase B or MMP-9.The MMPs remodel the extracellular matrix in tissue during wound healing.

“We show that MMP-9 is detrimental to wound healing, while MMP-8 is beneficial,” Chang said. “Our studies provide a strategy for diabetic wound healing by using selective MMP-9 inhibitors.”

The team treated diabetic mice with an inhibitor of MMP-9 and discovered that wounds were healed 92% after 14 days, as compared to 74% healing in untreated mice.

The identification of the enzyme that interferes with diabetic wound healing and that which repairs the wound opens the door to new, novel treatment strategies.

Findings appear in the journal ACS Chemical Biology.