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Auckland scientists discover new stem cell in human skin

Auckland scientists discover new stem cell in human skin

Auckland scientists have discovered new cells with stem cell properties in human skin, opening the door to a range of new treatments for skin diseases and unhealed wounds.

Auckland scientists have discovered new cells with stem cell properties in human skin, opening the door to a range of new treatments for skin diseases and unhealed wounds.

The scientists, Professor Rod Dunbar, Dr Vaughan Feisst, Dr Anna Brooks and Jenni Chen, are members of the Maurice Wilkins Centre for Molecular Biodiscovery, and the research was carried out in the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Auckland.

They identified mesenchymal progenitor cells (MPCs) in the dermis, the middle layer of skin, and discovered that these could turn themselves into fat cells. This signals that they can probably become other types of cells that repair and regenerate tissue, like similar stem cells found in fat and bone marrow.

“Nobody has identified these cells before, so this opens the door to advances in both skin healing and skin diseases,” says Professor Dunbar. “Every time you find new cells with stem cell-like properties, you know you’re onto something that could have major implications.”

“It’s a really exciting discovery,” he adds. “We try to avoid getting too carried away about our results because we’re constitutionally cautious – but this discovery is a pretty fundamental finding.”

The team hopes that its research, which started in 2011, could eventually lead to treatments for conditions that severely thicken the skin such as keloid scarring, in which tough, irregularly-shaped scars grow and spread. The team also suspects loss of these MPC cells may prevent proper healing, when, for example, radiation treatment for cancer has damaged the skin.

The tissue used in the research came from men and women who had undergone procedures such as liposuction, abdominoplasty or breast reduction with Auckland surgeons Ms Michelle Locke, Mr Jonathan Wheeler and Mr Julian Lofts. All patients consented to their tissue being used for the study.

The research involved sorting many millions of cells – “like sorting mixed-up flocks of sheep into their different breeds”, says Professor Dunbar – with a laser-based technology called flow cytometry.

The research is published this week as the cover article in the March 2014 edition of the international journal Stem Cells and Development.

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