The study, published in the September 3 issue of the journal Cell, not only demonstrates for the first time the multipotent power of these stem cells, but also holds promise for possible future application of these techniques for the treatment of human skin and hair conditions, says the study's lead investigator, Elaine Fuchs, Ph.D., professor and head of the Laboratory of Mammalian Cell Biology and Development at Rockefeller and an investigator at HHMI. Fuchs also is a member of the Robert and Harriet Heilbrunn Center for Stem Cell Research at Rockefeller.
"This is first work that indicates a single skin stem cell can generate both epidermis and hair, even after propagation in the lab," Fuchs says. "The potential of these stem cells is very exciting."
And in the future, she says, it may be possible to test if human skin cells can also be pushed to grow into other epithelial cells, such as eye cornea or tooth enamel, or even different types of tissues. "My interest has always been to understand biology with an eye toward eventual clinical applications," Fuchs says. "So far, this study has provided some of the answers that we will need to make this possible."
One possible application for the findings is to see if these methods can now be adapted to isolate human hair stem cells for developing future treatments for baldness, she says. In the present study, the Fuchs' team of researchers were able to isolate these stem cells from normal mice, graft them on to the backs of hairless mice, and generate luxuriant hair growth, as well as new glands to oil the hair and fresh skin.