Skin Program

The Skin Program of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute is devoted to generating synergistic interdisciplinary collaborations focused on the fundamental roles of cutaneous stem cells in health and disease. 

Areas of special interest include the function of physiologic stem cells in regenerative wound healing and skin aging; the role of neoplastic stem cells as drivers for initiation and progression of melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers; and the potential capacity of skin cells to be reprogrammed to provide embryonic pluripotency.

Key Research Questions

The HSCI Skin Program employs a variety of experimental resources, including patient-derived and transgenically-engineered cultured cells, murine avatar models for the in vivo study of human skin and related cancers, genomic material extracted from single cells laser-captured from tissue sections, and three-dimensional bioprinting approaches to address the following questions:

  • What are the spatial and epigenetic determinants of skin regeneration?
  • How can targeting of skin cancer stem cells be therapeutically achieved?
  • How can skin stem cell health and maintenance thwart chronological aging?

Key Scientific Results

Scientific findings from HSCI Skin Program investigators include:

  • The development of a biodegradable scaffold for regenerative wound healing.
  • The discovery of cancer stem cells that drive melanoma virulence.
  • The identification of immunoregulatory and highly plastic dermal stem cells.
  • The elucidation of the limbal stem cell gene required for corneal regeneration and repair.
  •  The insight that immune cells target epithelial stem cells in human face transplantation and graft-versus-host disease.
  • The deployment of subpopulations of hair follicle stem cells for skin regeneration.
  • The understanding of epigenetic/stem cell pathways responsible for skin cancer aggressiveness.