Transplantation of cultured epidermal cell sheets (CES) has long been used to treat patients with burns, chronic wounds, and stable vitiligo. In patients with large area burns this can be a life-saving procedure. The ultimate goal, however, is to restore all normal functions of the skin and prevent scar formation. Increased focus on the incorporation of epidermal stem cells (EpiSCs) within CES transplants may ultimately prove to be key to achieving this. Transplanted EpiSCs contribute to restoring the complete epidermis and provide long-term renewal.
Maintenance of the regenerative potential of EpiSCs is anchorage-dependent. The extracellular matrix (ECM) provides physical cues that are interpreted by EpiSCs and reciprocal signaling between cells and ECM are integrated to determine cell fate. Thus, the carrier scaffold chosen for culture and transplant influences maintenance of EpiSC phenotype and may enhance or detract from regenerative healing following transfer.
Long-term effectiveness and safety of genetically modified EpiSCs to correct the severe skin blistering disease epidermolysis bullosa has been shown clinically. Furthermore, skin is gaining interest as an easily accessible source of adult epithelial stem cells potentially useful for restoration of other types of epithelia. This review highlights the role of EpiSCs in the current treatment of skin injury and disease, as well as their potential in novel regenerative medicine applications involving other epithelia.
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