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Skin stem cells in homeostasis, wound-repair and cancer

Wednesday, January 15, 2014


Elaine Fuchs, Ph.D.
Investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute
Rebecca C. Lancefield Professor
The Rockefeller University

Elaine Fuchs is interested in understanding the molecular mechanisms underlying the ability of skin stem cells to produce the epidermis and its appendages, including hair follicles and sweat and oil glands. She uses mammalian epithelial stem-cell culture and mouse genetics as model systems. By studying the basic properties of stem cells, her lab has made major contributions towards understanding how tissues repair injuries and how abnormalities in stem-cell behavior can lead to cancers. Her lab’s recent breakthroughs include developing the technology to carry out genome-wide RNAi screens for oncogenic regulators of growth in mice.


Typically, the genetic cause of a disease is identified by studying the DNA of affected individuals, finding the responsible gene, and trying to understand how a mutated version might have coded for a defective protein that led to the disease. Dr. Fuchs, however, has pioneered “reverse genetics”: She starts with the protein abnormality and works backwards to identify the human disease. She has applied this strategy to elucidate the genetic basis of a number of blistering skin disorders and tumors. In this lecture she will focus on stem cells, the long-lived cells of our body that allow tissues to replace dying cells and repair wounds. Using skin as a model, she will explore the unique properties of skin stem cells that allow them to both replenish themselves (self-renew) and also maintain and regenerate the epidermis and its appendages such as sweat glands and hair follicles. She will also relay how resident stem cells of the skin communicate and respond to their local neighbors (their “niche”); how these signals prompt them to adjust their program of gene expression and begin to make tissue; and how new signals instruct them when to stop once enough tissue has been made.

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