Hair follicle morphogenesis, wound healing and skin cancer
Our skin and hair follicles provide constant protection against environmental stresses, and collectively constitute the largest organ in the human body. Although these ubiquitous structures may appear simple to the naked eye, numerous stem cell populations orchestrate the maintenance of these tissues during homeostasis as well as their regeneration upon injury. These cellular processes are complex, but offer a unique opportunity for examining the roles of diverse biological phenomena in the skin and hair follicle.
The major focus of our lab is to investigate the roles of different stem cell populations during hair follicle development, wound healing and tumorigenesis. Our previous work revealed that wounding can recruit oncogene-expressing stem cells from a hair follicle niche into sites of injury, where they subsequently give rise to tumors resembling basal cell carcinomas (BCCs), the most common cancer in North America. Our current work is now focused on understanding the migratory factors that promote the trafficking of hair follicle stem cells to wound sites and the regenerative behavior of these cells once they have reached their destination. We are also interested in studying the signaling pathways that mediate BCC carcinogenesis, including Hedgehog, Wnt and Notch, as well as other factors that impinge upon transduction of these networks. Finally, we are examining BCC tumor progression in the context of normal hair follicle development—comparing and contrasting these two processes as a possible means of gaining novel insights.