The powerful lure of the field of regenerative medicine is based on the promise of being able to design and repair tissues of the human body to restore parts lost to trauma or disease. Interestingly, regeneration imitates and adapts many processes found in embryogenesis and tissue morphogenesis.  Therefore a thorough understanding of these developmental processes beginning with individual stem cells through the formation of functional three dimensional organs is a prerequisite to making this field a reality.  Among the organs in the body, the mammalian skin has remarkable regenerative abilities and is thus a prime model for elucidating the fundamental mechanisms regulating tissue regeneration and repair.  In particular, the outer layer of the skin (the epidermis) is one of the few tissues that constantly regenerates throughout the lifetime of the animal.  This capability renders it an outstanding model system for following how stem cells fuel regeneration.  Moreover, due to its protective function as a barrier from the external environment, the epidermis is constantly damaged and must mount a wound-healing program to rapidly restore tissue architecture and function.  Both through our work and that of others, important strides have been made in the discovery of the rules of tissue formation, the interactions that occur between different cells within an organ, and the mechanisms underlying the regulation of tissue homeostasis.

With the goal of advancing the field of tissue regeneration and repair, we are currently exploring three major foci:

  1. Dissecting how stem cell decisions are made to produce and maintain a tissue.
  2. Understanding how these decisions are skewed either during diseases (e.g. cancer, diabetes, and inflammatory diseases) or during physiological processes (wound-healing).
  3. Elucidating the network of signals exchanged between epidermal cells and surrounding cells within the organ to produce an appropriate wound-healing response.

Our laboratory employs a wide array of experimental approaches ranging from genetic engineering of mouse models to cell biology and biochemistry to quantitative biology.  These multidisciplinary approaches are combined to gain a fundamental understanding of tissue homeostasis, using the skin as an experimental platform, and the human diseases that arise when these regulatory mechanisms are perturbed.  Consequently, though the research projects are rooted in basic biology, they also have considerable potential to promote the development of novel therapeutics for a variety of diseases.  These investigations occur under the auspices of a joint research laboratory sponsored by the Institute for Molecular Oncology (IFOM) and the Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine (inSTEM).  As a consequence, we have the ability to take advantage of unfettered access to state-of-the-art facilities and scientific talent of both IFOM and inSTEM/NCBS to make important and rapid advances in our research endeavors.   Moreover, we maintain a long-standing collaboration with Professor Shyni Varghese in the Department of Bioengineering at the University of California, San Diego.  Together we are analyzing how the cellular microenvironment impacts stem cell behavior. Collectively, these affiliations provide the basis for the development of an integrated, world class, academic research laboratory focused on investigating important questions of tissue and stem cell biology.