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A Research Review on the Formation of Skin from Stem Cells

The ability of stem cells to form specialized cell types as per the requirements of the body is well known. Researchers from the “European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Monterotondo and the Centro de Investigaciones Energéticas, Medioambientales y Tecnologicas (CIEMAT)” in Madrid discovered how these special cells form the largest organ of the body, skin. The results of the study were published in the journal Nature Cell Biology in September 2009.

Knowledge Gained from the Research:

After a particular point, stem cells stop growing in numbers and start differentiating into layers of the skin. The protein responsible for initiating this switching process was earlier known to the researchers.

In this study, experts identified two proteins namely C/EBPα and C/EBPβ which were responsible for the formation of new skin. Genetic engineering methods were used to delete the genes which encoded these proteins from experimental mice. It was found that the skin in these mice did not develop properly after the experiment, confirming the functioning of these proteins.

Mice which lacked either of these proteins had mechanically weak skin through which water managed to leak-out easily. This lead to the death of these mice owing to dehydration.

Interestingly the experts discovered that presence of any one protein was sufficient to ensure the skin to be strong and water tight. Generally, there are several stem cells inside the skin that there must be tight mechanism in place controlling their proliferation to avoid the risk of cancers. The unexpected redundancy of these two protein’s presence was perplexing to the researchers.

They believed that the presence of the two proteins was complementary with both the substances having different functions to perform in different situations.

Targeting of stem cells is one of the hallmarks of skin, breast and oral cancers. The genes associated in this process turn these cells malignant and cause their uncontrollable growth. In the absence of the proteins C/EBPα and C/EBPβ, such harmful genes make their reappearance.

Significance of the Research: Understanding the working of these proteins in the regulation of the skin stem cells can open up new ways of treating skin cancer. These proteins also controlled other important processes associated with the development of skin and hair.

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