|Professor Rod Dunbar|
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. 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. We try to avoid getting too carried away about our results because we’re constitutionally cautious - but this discovery is a pretty fundamental finding." said Professor Dunbar.
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", said Professor Dunbar - with a laser-based technology called flow cytometry.
- Feisst, V., Brooks, A., Chen, C., & Dunbar, P. (2014). Characterization of Mesenchymal Progenitor Cell Populations Directly Derived from Human Dermis Stem Cells and Development, 23 (6), 631-642 DOI: 10.1089/scd.2013.0207