Flow cytometry helps discover new stem cell in human skin

Scientists from the University of Auckland's Maurice Wilkins Centre for Molecular Biodiscovery in New Zealand have, using flow cytometry, discovered new cells with stem cell properties in human skin. The discovery could lead to a range of new treatments for skin diseases and unhealed wounds.

Related: Expanded applications drive flow cytometry's growth

Using 11-marker flow cytometry to sort millions of cells, the scientists 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 Prof. Rod Dunbar, who led the work. "Every time you find new cells with stem cell-like properties, you know you’re onto something that could have major implications."

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 Michelle Locke, Jonathan Wheeler, and Julian Lofts. All patients consented to their tissue being used for the study, which was conducted at the University of Auckland's School for Biological Sciences.

Full details of the work appear in the journal Stem Cells and Development; for more information, please visit http://dx.doi.org/10.1089/scd.2013.0207.

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