A tension offloading patch mitigates dermal fibrosis induced by pro-fibrotic skin injections

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Skin fibrosis is a clinical problem with devastating impacts but limited treatment options. In the setting of diabetes, insulin administration often causes local dermal fibrosis, leading to a range of clinical sequelae including impeded insulin absorption. Mechanical forces are important drivers of fibrosis and, clinically, physical tension offloading at the skin level using an elastomeric patch significantly reduces wound scarring. However, it is not known whether tension offloading could similarly prevent skin fibrosis in the setting of pro-fibrotic injections. Here, we develop a porcine model using repeated local injections of bleomycin to recapitulate key features of insulin-induced skin fibrosis. Using histologic, tissue ultrastructural, and biomechanical analyses, we show that application of a tension-offloading patch both prevents and rescues existing skin fibrosis from bleomycin injections. By applying single-cell transcriptomic analysis, we find that the fibrotic response to bleomycin involves shifts in myeloid cell dynamics from favoring putatively pro-regenerative to pro-fibrotic myeloid subtypes; in a mechanomodulatory in vitro platform, we show that these shifts are mechanically driven and reversed by exogenous IL4. Finally, using a human foreskin xenograft model, we show that IL4 treatment mitigates bleomycin-induced dermal fibrosis. Overall, this study highlights that skin tension offloading, using an FDA cleared, commercially available patch, could have significant potential clinical benefit for the millions of patients dependent on insulin.

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