Above: Image © fjanecic, iStock

A paper cut is one of the most annoying skin injuries you can get. It might not bleed much, but it sure is distracting. Plus, it hurts!

In the Star Trek universe, pesky cuts like these are healed with a simple wave of a dermal regenerator. Commander Riker and other Next Generation crew members use this device in episodes set in the mid-2300s. But a very similar device that uses sound waves to heal skin may actually be released a few hundred years sooner.

Skin regeneration in Star Trek and beyond

The dermal regenerators used on Star Trek stimulate skin growth and heal skin damage. They can fix scratches and scrapes, close cuts, remove small scars, and even heal burns.

The real-world skin-healing devices currently being developed use ultrasonic beams. These are sound waves that activate your body’s natural healing processes, helping skin regenerate.

Typically, healing your skin gets harder as you get older. That’s because fibroblasts, the cells responsible for skin healing, become less active and less effective. So as you age, any damage to your skin will heal more slowly, or not at all. Healing can also take longer if you’re sick or have an unhealthy lifestyle.

Did you know? Your skin renews itself about every 27 days. This helps keep your skin stretchy, waterproof and healthy. It also helps protect you against bacteria and other infections.

Of mice and skin

Researchers like Mark Bass from the University of Sheffield have looked at how ultrasonic beams can make fibroblasts active again. For example, his team did a study on diabetic, older mice in 2015. They found that wounds on these mice healed up to 30% faster when exposed to ultrasonic waves. This happened because the ultrasonic vibrations wiggled the old, less active fibroblast cells.

The vibrations also let calcium ions move inside the cells. Calcium acts like a wake-up alarm for fibroblast cells, getting them moving so they can repair damaged skin. Basically, ultrasonic waves reversed the effects of aging in old skin cells!

In this same study, researchers applied ultrasonic waves to fibroblast cells taken from the leg of an elderly person being treated for ulcers. The waves increased fibroblast cell movement in these cells, too. That means humans might benefit from the technology in the same way as mice!

As a bonus, this technology is relatively risk-free. You’d have fewer side effects healing skin issues with ultrasound waves than you would with medication.

Did you know? Ultrasonic refers to sound waves that vibrate so fast that the human ear can’t hear them. However, other animals can, including dogs, bats, and whales!

The future of ultrasonic healing

Researchers are starting to study how to use this technique to treat problems deeper inside the body. One example is ultrasonic bone healing. Some studies show that broken bones can heal faster with ultrasonic therapy, just like skin.

Slowly but surely, techniques like ultrasonic healing are turning science fiction into scientific fact! Maybe one day, those pesky paper cuts won’t bother you as much. All you’ll have to do is reach for your handy dermal regenerator, just like Commander Riker!

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Shakib Rahman

 Shakib Rahman is a coordinator with Let's Talk Science at the UofA.  He an avid soccer player and a sports nut in general.  He also has a a passion for science, science literature and TV. In his spare time, he writes science articles, some of which you can read here at CurioCity.

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