Licking wounds


Scientists in the Netherlands have identified a compound in human saliva, histatin, a small protein previously only believed to kill bacteria, that greatly speeds wound healing. Their research appears in the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology journal ( and may offer hope to those suffering from chronic wounds, traumatic injuries and burns. Because the compounds can be mass produced, they could become as common as antibiotic creams.

The researchers used epithelial cells that line the inner cheek, and cultured them in dishes until the surfaces were completely covered with cells. Then they made an artificial wound in the cell layer in each dish, by scratching a small piece of the cells away. In one dish, cells were bathed in an isotonic fluid without any additions. In the other dish, cells were bathed in human saliva. After 16 hours the saliva treated ‘wound’ was almost completely closed. In the dish with the untreated ‘wound’, a substantial part was still open.

To identify the ‘healing’ component, the researchers split the saliva, a complex liquid, into its individual components, and tested each in their wound model. They determined that histatin was responsible. The discovery may explain why wounds in the mouth, like those of a tooth
extraction, heal much faster than comparable wounds of the skin and bone.

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