Genetics influence wound infection and healing time, study finds

LUBBOCK, Texas — We all know that family plays a role in our traits like height and hair color. Now, a new study finds that one’s genetics may even influence how their wounds heal. Researchers from Texas Tech University say that certain genes are linked to the amount of bacteria and pathogens found in wounds.

These pathogens, collectively known as a wound’s microbiomeplay a big role in determining how efficiently a wound heals in general. They also factor into how long the healing process will take. The more diverse a wound’s microbiome, the faster it heals, according to researchers.

A group of patients treated at Lubbock’s Southwest Regional Wound Care Center for a lower-extremity infected wound gave their permission to be included in this study. Each of those patients had a sample taken from their wound, as well as a cheek swab. A number of advanced techniques (microbiome profiling, genome fingerprinting, wet lab validation, etc.) were then used to analyze all of the collected patient samples.

“We showed that there are identifiable locations in people’s genome where, depending on their genotype, they tend to get infections by specific bacteria,” explains co-study leader Caleb Phillips, assistant professor at Texas Tech University and director of the Phillips Laboratory in the Department of Biological Sciences, in a release. “The different genomic locations identified tend to be related in terms of the types of genes they are close to and may regulate. A working hypothesis emerging from the research is that genetic differences influencing genes encoding the way our cells interact with the environment and each other are important for infection differences.”

How genetics can help doctors improve treatment

This discovery in and of itself does not offer any tangible benefits for patients. The study’s authors say their work sets the stage for future innovations, however.

“Personalized medicine is a current hot topic in modern healthcare, where the goal is to identify inherent differences within individuals that may cause them to be impacted differently by disease and finding treatments that are well-suited and tailored to the individual and may contribute to better patient outcomes,” says co-study leader Craig Tipton, a doctoral student. “Our project furthers two equally-interesting avenues of research with potential translation to the clinic. In one, it is our goal to develop robust genomic predictive models that could help physicians to determine a patient’s risk for chronic wound infection, particularly to specific bacteria.”

“In the second, this work helps to inform how genetic variation in patients can influence microbiome-host interactions and wound infection pathogenesis. By further studying infection pathogenesis and how these complex microbial communities interact, it may be possible to improve existing therapies or to develop new therapeutic strategies altogether,” Tipton adds.

Professor Phillips is also planning out a follow-up project that will hopefully provide enough genetic information to construct predictive models. Also, a second study is gearing up that will investigate if people living in different regions of the United States exhibit differences in their chronic wound microbiomes.

The study is published in PLOS Pathogens.

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