When our health is concerned, some molecules are widely labeled “good,” while others are considered “bad.” Often, the truth is more complicated.
Consider free radical molecules. These highly reactive, oxygen-containing molecules are well known for damaging DNA, proteins and other molecules in our bodies. They are suspected of contributing to premature aging and cancer. But now, new research shows they might also have healing powers .
Using the oft-studied laboratory roundworm known as C. elegans, a research group led by Andrew Chisholm at the University of California, San Diego, made a surprising discovery. Free radicals, specifically those made in cell structures called mitochondria, appear necessary for skin wounds to heal. In fact, higher (but not dangerously high) levels of the molecules can actually speed wound closure.
If further research shows the same holds true in humans, the work could point to new ways to treat hard-to-heal wounds, like diabetic foot ulcers.