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Monday, February 18, 2013

Skin Stem Cells

Originally Published: February 18, 2013
Defining Relationships Between Skin Stem Cells: An Unresolved Question in Skin Regeneration.
By: Sarthak Sinha
Skin is the largest organ in the human body serving as a first line of defense from external pathogens. Hair follicles and the distinct compartments within the skin are continually being repopulated and this regenerative capacity is now believed to be a result of two prominent stem cell populations residing along the hair shaft. Recent work from Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto discovered a novel population of dermal precursors (commonly abbreviated as SKPs) residing at the base of hair follicles in two distinct compartments, dermal sheath and papilla. These surprising discoveries have raised many questions in the rapidly evolving field of stem cells as we get closer in our chase to uncovering the mechanisms allowing hair and skin to exhibit such robust regenerative capacity.
In ninth grade, I remember reading a review article which highlighted one of the fundamental questions yet to be answered in this field was ʻRelationship between SKPs and other skin stem cellsʼ. It was the same year I joined Dr. Biernaskieʼs laboratory at the University of Calgary to be part of a team of researchers at the forefront of skin regeneration. I’m now attempting to answer this very same and promising question of regenerative medicine where my project is focused on uncovering the mechanisms that allow these two populations of skin stem cells to be able to communicate with one another. Uncovering the mechanisms and organelles responsible for this communication, we are now translating the findings into designing drug targets with sound rationale to make the clinical translation of cell replacement therapies a viable option following chronic and severe skin trauma.
Injuries to the skin in the forms of skin burn or chronic wounding rob an individual’s ability to sense touch, sweat and often results in poor recovery following skin grafting. The new hope of being able to use these dermal precursors as a source of autologous stem cells for transplantations following such injury offers new promise towards a superior attempt at reconstructing the first layer of defense in the operation theaters worldwide. Additionally, the commercial benefits of my research include fast and efficient hair regeneration to be used in conjugation with chemotherapy or for cosmetics industry.

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