Large doses of recombinant growth factors formulated in solution form directly injected into the body is usual clinical practice in treating second-degree scald injuries, with promising results, but this approach creates side effects; furthermore, it may not allow appropriate levels of the factor to be sensed by the target injured tissue/organ in the specific time frame, owing to complications arising from regeneration. In this research, two delivery methods (infusion pumping and local topical application) were applied to deliver recombinant human erythropoietin (rHuEPO) for skin regeneration. First, rHuEPO was given in deep second-degree scald injury sites in mice by infusion pump. Vascularization was remarkably higher in the rHuEPO pumping group than in controls. Second, local topical application of rHuEPO gel was given in deep second-degree scald injury sites in rats. Histological analysis showed that epithelialization rate was significantly higher in the rHuEPO gel-treated group than in controls. Immunohistochemical studies showed that the rHuEPO gel-treated group showed remarkably higher expression of skin regeneration makers than the control group. An accurate method for visualization and quantification of blood vessel networks in target areas has still not been developed up to this point, because of technical difficulties in detecting such thin blood vessels. A method which utilizes a series of steps to enhance the image, removes noise from image background, and tracks the vessels edges for vessel segmentation and quantification has been used in this study. Using image analysis methods, we were able to detect the microvascular networks of newly formed blood vessels (less than 500 μm thickness), which participate in the healing process, providing not only nutrition and oxygen to grow tissues but also necessary growth factors to grow tissue cells for complete skin regeneration. The rHuEPO-treated group showed higher expression of stem cell markers (CD 31, CD 90, CD 71, and nestin), which actively contribute to in-wound-healing processes for new hair follicle generation as well as skin regeneration. Collectively, both rHuEPO group pumping into the systemic circulation system, and injection into the local injury area, prompted mice and rats to form new blood vessel networks in scald injury sites, which significantly participate in the scald healing process. These results may lead to the development of novel treatments for scald wounds.
Keywords: neovascularization; re-epithelialization; scald wound; segmentation; skin regeneration; vascularization.