Adult mouse skin contains stem cell that can grow into both skin and hair, a new US study confirms. The findings could lead to new treatments for burns and baldness say the researchers, who published their findings in the journal Cell. The scientists, based at the Rockefeller University in New York, isolated individual cells and transplanted them into a wound on the back of a hairless mouse. These cells then produced hundreds of thousands more skin cells, including fur and oil-producing glands.
Two studies reported earlier this year provided evidence that such cells existed, but the new research is the first to prove that they are true stem cells, capable of growing into new tissues. 'We are now looking at whether we can isolate human cells with the same procedure', said team member Cedric Blanpain. If they succeed, then the work could lead to better skin grafts for treating burns - current treatments do not replace hair or sweat glands. Transplanted skin stem cells may be able to grow all of the missing cell types, says team leader Elaine Fuchs.
The discovery could also lead to effective new baldness treatments. 'The hairs are quite dense. They look just like a normal fur coat', said Fuchs. Although the stem cells can grow into three types of cell, the researchers think it is unlikely that the skin stem cells will be able to generate other types of body tissue. Blanpain said that whether the cells could form neurons, blood or muscle cells was 'totally not a question that we're studying in the lab'. But, he added, 'it's certainly worth a try, and theoretically promising to try and find some condition to turn the skin cells into a totally different type of lineage'.