Assistance from the National Science Foundation might help UC Davis scientists revolutionize the world of skin regeneration.
Dermatology and ophthalmology professor Min Zhoa, undertaking a study on the cellular response to damaged epithelial tissues, recently received a $1 million grant on behalf of the NSF to fund and advance his research. The grant will be given in increments over a period of three years.
“In our lab, we are trying to understand the mechanism behind cellular migrations to wound sites,” said colleague Yao-Hui Sun, who joined the lab in October 2009. “My background is in microbiology, but I joined the lab because there is a wide array of potentials for tissue healing and skin regeneration. This grant is going to be very helpful because this money is going to help facilitate this research.”
Zhoa began his research on cell migrations and their role in skin regeneration in 1995. Having previously worked in Scotland, Zhoa made the transition to UC Davis in 2007 to utilize the advanced technology available at the UC Davis Health System and Center for Neuroscience. A central point of interest for Zhou and colleagues has been the generation of weak electric fields after an injury to the epithelial tissue layers and their role in facilitating a cellular response to the wound site.
“Our lab was able to find that this signal of the electric field is the predominant guiding force in cell migration to the wound site,” Zhoa said. “This is exciting because it revealed the source behind cellular migration and furthers our research in helping wounds to heal.”
Despite the discovery of these electric fields and their ability to facilitate cellular migration to damaged tissue sites, the question still remains on how the subsequent responding cells can sense these weak electric fields. Understanding the mechanism behind this cellular response could lead to a better understanding of healing and facilitate more rapid tissue regeneration, Zhoa said.
“If we can find the mechanism behind electrical sensing, this will be a huge breakthrough for biology,” Zhoa said. “Understanding this mechanism not only holds implications for tissue engineering and regeneration, but will address other very important studies of interest in biology.”
Zhoa’s lab will use the recently awarded grant money to narrow their research and focus on locating the genes responsible for sensing these electric fields. By collaborating with biomedical engineering professor Tingrui Pan, Zhoa and colleagues will generate genetic mutations in the amoeba Dictylostelium discoideum and discern which mutations are responsive to the signal. Working with the simpler body complex of the amoeba will enable Zhoa’s lab to understand the mechanism of tissue regeneration in the more complex cells of the human body.
“Our research has shown that the electric fields can program the cells to move, divide and grow, which can lead to a new paradigm for regenerative medicine,” Pan said. “To understand more on what guides these cells to wound sites, we are interested in using a micro-nanoengineering approach to achieve a high throughput and high-sensitivity screening of the important biomolecules and biosignals involved in such a process.”
REBECCA SHRAGGE can be reached at email@example.com.