We constantly grow new skin and slough off the old. Until now, scientists have never agreed on exactly how this works, but new research from the University of Sheffield may provide the answer.
Engineers and biologists at the University of Sheffield have shown how a recent theory-- that skin has 'sleeping' stem cells which can be woken up when required-- best explains how our skin constantly regrows. The research-- conducted in collaboration with The Procter & Gamble Company (P&G), makers of Olay, and published in Nature Scientific Reports-- has implications for combating the effects of aging and perhaps even skin cancer.
The Sheffield/P&G team developed an "in silico" (computer) model of human skin biology, capturing how the outer layers of the skin are developed and maintained over time. This model simulation or "virtual" skin was then used to test the three most popular theories of how skin cells function to regenerate our skin, the largest human organ, over a three-year period. When the simulation was run according to two of the theories, the virtual skin failed to fully regenerate. Only one theory enabled the virtual skin to still be in good shape after three years, as Dr. Xinshan Li (University of Sheffield Faculty of Engineering) and Dr. Arun Upadhyay (P&G), the lead co-authors explained in their research.
"The theory which seems to fit best says that skin has a population of 'sleeping' stem cells, which sit in the lowest layer of the skin but don't constantly divide to make new cells," Dr. Li said. "However, these sleeping cells can be called into action if the skin is damaged, or if the numbers of other types of more mature skin cells decrease, ensuring that the skin can be constantly regenerated under all conditions."
The model showed that we gradually lose these sleeping stem cells over time-- which would explain why our ability to regenerate our skin reduces as we age. "Each time we wake up these cells, to
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