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               Fibroblasts treated with alphaCT1 respond by doing what Gourdie describes as the “fibroblast dance.” The cells undergo pivoting
                motions that result in frequent direction changes. Gourdie speculates this unusual pattern of cellular movement dictates how the
                            cells knit the collagen bundles together that will form the scar. (Gourdie Lab / Virginia Tech)

                                             procedures are performed in the     drug’s mechanism is playing out
                                      8      United States each year -- often    as we thought it would,” said
                                             resulting in noticeable scarring    Ghatnekar, FirstString’s president
        which makes the tissue less pliable.   on patients. Methods to reduce    and chief executive officer.
        By contrast, scars that were applied   scarring after operations are
        with the drug had a collagen matrix   sought after.                      The company has closed $55
        resembling unwounded skin.                                               million in Series B, C, and D
        Related experiments were repeated    “This is some of the most exciting   Funding since 2018, and is
        using guinea pig and rat models      basic science research in wound     evaluating the drug’s use in a
        and yielded similar results.         healing I’ve seen in a long time,”   variety of applications, including
                                             said Kurtis Moyer, chief of plastic   surgical wound healing, chronic
        The researchers also analyzed        and reconstructive surgery for      wound healing, radiation therapy
        human skin cells cultured in         Carilion Clinic and a professor     wound healing, and corneal
        a dish to watch how the drug         of surgery at the Virginia Tech     tissue repair.
        influenced cellular activity in real-  Carilion School of Medicine.
        time. They discovered that the       Moyer was not involved in the       “We alter how the human
        presence of the molecule caused      study, but has collaborated with    body responds to injury by
        fibroblasts to stretch out like a    the Gourdie lab on wound healing    shifting the balance from
        rubber band, then snap back into     research for 20 years.              healing by scarring to healing
        shape and change direction.                                              by regeneration. The medical
                                             “This shows real promise and could   applications for our technology
        “We call it the fibroblast dance,”   potentially revolutionize what we do   are far-ranging,” Ghatnekar said.
        said Gourdie, who is also the        in plastic surgery,” Moyer said.
        Commonwealth Research                                                    Story Source:
        Commercialization Fund Eminent       AlphaCT1 influences wound healing   Materials provided by Virginia
        Scholar in Heart Reparative          by temporarily interrupting cell    Tech. Original written by
        Medicine Research and a professor    signaling functions of connexin 43,   Whitney Slightham. Note:
        of biomedical engineering and        a gap junction channel protein.     Content may be edited for style
        mechanics in Virginia Tech’s                                             and length.
        College of Engineering.              Gourdie and his lab invented
                                             the molecule and discovered its     Journal Reference:
        This unusual fibroblast behavior in   useful effects on wound healing    1. Jade Montgomery, William J.
        the treated tissue appears to have   with his former postdoctoral        Richardson, Spencer Marsh, J.
        a positive effect on scar formation,   associate, Gautam Ghatnekar, a    Matthew Rhett, Francis Bustos,
        Gourdie says.                        decade ago. Together they formed    Katherine Degen, Gautam S.
                                             a biopharmaceutical company,        Ghatnekar, Christina L. Grek,
        “In unwounded skin, the collagen     FirstString Research Inc., to bring   L. Jane Jourdan, Jeffrey W.
        is enmeshed, allowing the tissue to   alphaCT1 to market.                Holmes, Robert G. Gourdie. The
        move and stretch in all directions.                                      connexin 43 carboxyl terminal
        The fibroblasts’ directional         The molecule is currently being     mimetic peptide αCT1 prompts
        changes appear to influence how      evaluated in Phase III clinical     differentiation of a collagen scar
        the collagen matrix forms during     testing in bilateral breast surgery   matrix in humans resembling
        scarring,” Gourdie said.             patients.                           unwounded skin. The FASEB
                                                                                 Journal, 2021; 35 (8) DOI:
        More than 300 million surgical       “These findings validate that the   10.1096/fj.202001881R

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