Great new research is now allowing scientists to watch and manipulate stem cells regenerating tissue in real time. This can all happen without injuring the animal. In order to do this researcher have developed a new sophisticated imaging technique. This new technique has allowed a greater insight into how the tissue regeneration process works.
This study focused on stem cell behaviour within the hair follicles of mice. Due to the accessibility of these stem cells, the researchers were able to view the process in real time. The study used a 2-photon intravital microscopy. This new techniques works by using transgenic mice and near infrared light, to allow deeper penetration with less damage to the tissue.
Using this technique the study was able to observe the interactions between stem cells and their progeny. It showed that different stem cells were creating different cell types within the tissue. Further the interaction between these cells and their immediate environment determines how they will divide, where they will migrate too and in what way they will specialise. I hear you saying we already knew this. I agree, but the ability to visualise this in a uninjured animal, in real time, really bring the whole process to life and after all that’s what biology is about; real life.
The real ‘discovery’ in this project was in terms of mouse hair follicles. The study found that hair growth would not occur in the absence of the connective tissue mesenchyme, which appears early on in embryonic development. Stem cells are very important and as our understanding grows, they are only going to get more important. This is due to their ability to regenerate many other types of tissue in mammals. This study really highlights the importance of the microenvironment in determining stem cell behaviour. Armed with this knowledge we can uncover the mechanisms that go wrong in the cases of cancer and other diseases. This same technique has the potential to shed light on multiple different areas: what stimuli is required to trigger repairs in a variety of organs and how stem cells interact with other cells.