In the movie The Hulk, Bruce Banner's green alter ego exhibits an extraordinary ability to heal after his enemies inflict various wounds. Now scientists have brought this science fiction a little closer to reality--at least in mice. According to a report published online this week by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, genetically engineered mice recover from cuts significantly faster than normal mice do. The results may help researchers develop new treatments for wounds and skin diseases.

Yuichi Oike of Keio University in Japan and colleagues initially engineered mice that express large amounts of a protein known as angiopoietin-related growth factor (AGF) in order to study its role in forming blood vessels. The resulting animals had swollen ears, noses and eyelids that were reddish in color and contained a greater number of blood vessels in the dermis layer of skin compared to controls. In general, the mutant mice also had much thicker skin than the normal animals did. But of particular note was the ability of the animals to recover from lacerations incredibly quickly, the scientists report. Two-millimeter wide holes punched in the animals' ears healed completely within 28 days.

The team detected unusually high concentrations of AGF around the wound sites, indicating that the protein aids in recovery. The authors posit that AGF increases skin cell formation and boosts blood flow to the region. Looking forward, the researchers plan to investigate knockout mice lacking the gene that produces AGF to further define its role. Understanding AGF's biological function, they assert, "could lead to novel therapeutic strategies for wound care and epidermal regenerative medicine."