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Do immune cells stimulate skin cancer stem cells?

  • Researcher: Dr Mirna Perez-Moreno
  • Institution: University of Copenhagen, Denmark
  • Award Amount: £200,458 for 3 years from 1st June 2015
  • Cancer Type: Skin Cancer
Do immune cells stimulate skin cancer stem cells?
Stem cells are amazing ‘starter cells’ that can develop into a wide range of different cell types.  Several adult tissues depend on the presence of stem cells to function correctly.  For example skin cells are constantly becoming old and dying or are being damaged through wounds so new skin cells are constantly needed. Skin stem cells are activated and new cells are made.  However, in recent years, scientists have found that uncontrolled activation of stem cells can lead to the formation of tumours, such as squamous cell carcinomas of the skin – a type of skin cancer.

“One of the mechanisms activating skin stem cells are molecules called Wnts.” Dr Mirna Perez-Moreno explains.  “We have recently identified that cells of the immune system, called macrophages, produce Wnts and regulate stem cell activation in hair follicles.

In this current project, we are aiming to determine whether these macrophage-derived Wnts contribute to the growth of cancer stem cells and the development of skin cancer. Addressing this question is of fundamental importance, as there is a huge interest in understanding how the tissue environment controls stem cell behavior and contributes to cancer. Our results have the potential to open new insights into the physiological mechanisms that sustain tumours, and may lead to the development of new and improved therapeutic strategies.”
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