Australian scientists said Tuesday they had pinpointed a protein in unborn lambs that could help prevent scarring in human burn victims.
The researchers from the Royal Children's Hospital Burns Research Group in Brisbane said they had found that a small burn inflicted under anesthetic on lamb fetuses healed without a scar in about seven days.
Similar burns inflicted on month-old lambs left scars when healed, researcher John Fraser was quoted as saying by the Australian Associated Press.
Fraser said laboratory research had led to the discovery that injured fetuses created a specific protein when they healed which was not present in the same quantities in new-born lambs.
The scientists plan to start animal trials of a preparation using the protein to treat burns and if that is successful human trials are envisioned, he said.
If a cream based on the protein was effective in reducing scarring, it would have major implications, especially for child burn victims, Fraser said.
Burns in children are difficult to treat because the child grows faster than the scar, he said.
"There's a lot of pain. You need general anaesthetic sometimes, you need a lot of pain medication," he said.
"There are scientific reasons why (the new protein) should work to reduce scarring and we are extremely excited at the possibility of reducing the suffering of children with burns," he said.
Fraser declined to name the protein, also found in humans, because of legal moves to patent the discovery.