The study also found that Lin28a promotes tissue repair in part by enhancing metabolism in mitochondria—the energy-producing engines in cells—suggesting that a mundane cellular "housekeeping" function could open new avenues for developing regenerative treatments. Findings were published online by the journal Cell on November 7.

"Efforts to improve wound healing and tissue repair have mostly failed, but altering metabolism provides a new strategy which we hope will prove successful," says the study's senior investigator George Q. Daley, MD, PhD, director of Boston Children's Stem Cell Transplantation Program and an investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

"Most people would naturally think that growth factors are the major players in wound healing, but we found that the core metabolism of cells is rate-limiting in terms of tissue repair," adds PhD candidate Shyh-Chang Ng, co-first author on the paper with Hao Zhu, MD, both scientists in the Daley Lab. "The enhanced metabolic rate we saw when we reactivated Lin28a is typical of embryos during their rapid growth phase."