A Healing Blitz

NDSU Microbiology
by NDSU Microbiology

Guest Blogger: Emily Driessen, Undergraduate in Microbiology

As the horribly cacophonous alarm on my high-tech, silver-colored clock goes off, I fight the urge to press the snooze button and finally switch the alarm off. I sit up and throw my water-colored, flower-patterned covers off as I try to muster the energy to start the day. I decide to give myself a brief period of time to work my eyes open, and once the battle with my eyelids is over, I wait for my sleepiness to retreat while I stare at my exposed legs.

These legs, my legs, are covered in dark, blue-gray bruises and red crusty cuts. Someone who doesn't know me might grow concerned and consider calling the police. But don't worry! I am not beaten by anyone, and I do not have any diseases that would cause aberrant amounts of sustained injuries. In fact, after knowing me and seeing my legs for a while, a person would probably start to think this is just a weird coloration my legs have since they almost always look like this. My legs are always in this state for a couple of reasons: 1. I have horrible coordination, so I constantly run into walls, literally run into them and 2. I also play lacrosse where I commonly get hit with sticks and balls. Luckily for me, my body handles all of these injuries and is constantly healing the damage I have done ... and in a very quick manner I might add.

As a microbiology undergraduate at NDSU, I have to look into the science of this daily healing act my body performs. A recent study done at the Scripps Research Institute determined that the fast-acting healing component present in the body is called IL-17A. This name doesn't have enough zing for me and doesn't give me a real image of what it does, so for my purposes, I'm going to call it Blitz. This name is fitting not only because it is my dog's name and for that reason is memorable, but also because it means fast in German. Blitz recruits immune cells and causes inflammation almost immediately upon injury. And in this recent study, without Blitz, wounds on mice healed much slower than those with it. The producers of this important wound-healing component are the dendritic epithelial T-cells (DETC), and these are the only immune cells that are present in the skin. Thanks to the DETC's fast-acting Blitz, all of my scrapes and cuts are quickly taken care of as soon as they are produced.

This may not seem like a big deal, but it is. If it weren’t for Blitz and DETCs, humans would have to be much more careful with their bodies to avoid injury and the complications, such as infection, that can go with it. Without the immediate action these two provide, the likelihood of infection could be much higher.

I have to thank these two little buddies for always being there for me. When I got my tonsils removed. When I got my finger pricked at the doctor's office. They comforted me and helped me heal. There should be a day devoted to them. I mean, really. There's a mother's day and a father's day. Where's the IL-17A and DETC day?

So next time you see a skinned elbow on a little boy who just fell off his bike or a NDSU football player bleeding from a wound on his forehead caused by a high impact hit, I hope you think of Blitz (IL-17A) and DETCs. After all, they are present in everyone's skin.

Image: Healthy T-cell. Source: NIAID.

This entry is part of the fall MICR 354 scientific writing students' blog series.