New stem cell study challenges skin renewal perception

By Andrew MCDOUGALL contact

- Last updated on GMT

(Credit: Kim Jensen, University of Copenhagen)
(Credit: Kim Jensen, University of Copenhagen)
New stem cell research challenges the current perception of how skin is renewed; offering a different understanding to current models about how skin is maintained throughout life.

The skin consists of many different cell types and protects against microbial and chemical attacks, as well as forming a waterproof barrier that prevents fluid loss.

In cosmetics, stem cell technologies have become popular due to the developed understanding and anti-aging properties.

New research carried out by a team from BRIC, University of Copenhagen and Cambridge University, uses a unique method based on new technology to understand how skin is maintained and renews itself.

Previously, stem cells were thought to be organized in a strict hierarchy, however these results show that the skin contains specialized stem cells holding a primary function, with the potential to change function if a need arises.

"Until now, the belief was that the skin's stem cells were organized in a strict hierarchy with a primitive stem cell type at the top of the hierarchy, and that this cell gave rise to all other cell types of the skin,”​ says Associate Professor Kim Jensen.

“However, our results show that there are differentiated levels of stem cells and that it is their close micro-environment that determines whether they make hair follicles, fat- or sweat.”

New method of understanding

The team, led by Jensen, marked the early skin stem cell with shining proteins in order to map stem cell behaviour in the outer layer of the skin, before tracing the origins through the stain.

“The fine details of the family tree can be used to infer the stem cell's role in normal maintenance of the skin, as well as in wound healing,”​ comments Jensen.

An important function of stem cells is to repair damaged tissue. The results of this study show that the different stem cell populations collaborate across their normal functions, to repair the skin as fast as possible.

However, this can also cause harm, as these changes can "wake up" genes in the stem cells and give rise to cancer. The new results consequently also contribute with new knowledge on the origin of skin cancer.

Cancer research

The research emphasizes what is already known about the skin and its maintenance with regards to old models, but Jensen explains that the new study gives more meaning when related to a new model that the team proposes.

"Our research will now take two directions,”​ adds Jensen. “We will establish mathematical models for organ maintenance in order to "measure" what stem cells are doing in the skin.”

“Also, we will expand our investigations in cancer initiation, hoping for results that can contribute to cancer diagnostics and improved treatment.”

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