- Lecturer on the MRes course "Stem Cells & Regenerative Medicine"
- Supervision of Postgraduates (PhD and MRes students)
- Supervision of Undergraduates
- PDR conduction
- Management of the 'Dermatological Sciences Journal Cub' and the 'Research in Progress' seminar series
- Venia legendi (PD), University of Bonn, Germany
- Habilitation (habil.) in Genetics, University of Bonn, Germany
- PhD in Human Biology (Dr. rer. physiol.), University of Marburg, Germany
- Diploma in Human Biology (major subjects: Biochemistry/Molecular Biology, Cell Biology and Immunology), University of Marburg, Germany
- PI, Biochemistry I, University of Cologne, Germany
- Assistant Professor, Institute of Physiological Chemistry, University of Bonn, Germany
- Postdoc, Institute of Physiological Chemistry, University of Bonn, Germany
- Postdoc, Institute of Genetics, University of Bonn, Germany
- The Physiological Society
- British Society for Investigative Dermatology (BSID)
- Deutscher Hochschulverband (DHV)
German, Spanish, French
Our research interest focuses on two areas: 1) keratinocyte stem cell regulation in normal and psoriatic skin, and 2) the development of gene therapies for blistering skin diseases aiming to treat patient’s keratinocyte stem cells ex vivo using the novel TALE nuclease technology. Furthermore, we have a strong background in intermediate filament research and contributed to the understanding of the role of intermediate filaments under physiological conditions and in disease.
Keratinocyte stem cells
Forcing stem cells out of their niche to improve wound healing
Skin stem cells are responsible for constant skin renewal and for wound healing. There is one population of extremely potent stem cells sitting in a niche at the interface between the hair follicle and a small muscle the contraction o which causes the hair to stand on end when we are freezing. It is known from other types of stem cells in our bodies, such as bone stem cells, that they are activated by force. Our group is investigating whether contraction of the hair follicle muscle resulting in stretching of the niche stem cells activates this cell population. If we find that skin stem cells are activated by stretch we will explore whether this mechanism may be harnessed to accelerate healing of difficult wounds.
Gene therapies for inherited skin disorders
Our research team is currently developing gene therapies for two inherited blistering skin diseases: epidermolysis bullosa simplex (EBS) and epidermolytic hyperkeratosis (EHK). The aim is to use ‘molecular scissors’ (novel tools called ‘TALE nucleases’) to destroy the disease-causing genes in skin cells from patients. As the ‘molecular scissors cannot be applied to the skin directly we will treat skin cells, derived from patient biopsies, in the laboratory and transplant successfully corrected cells back to the patient’s skin. The ‘molecular scissors’ will cause a permanent correction of the gene defects in the patient’s skin cells but will otherwise not leave any traces within the cells. The grafted cells will support regeneration of a healthy resilient skin.
Skin resilience relies on the keratin skeleton within its cells – but how does that work exactly?
Keratins are found in various cell types in our bodies, such as liver cells or skin cells. In cells of the top layer of the skin (epidermis) keratins are the most prominent proteins. The function of these cells, called keratinocytes, is to form the skin barrier which on the one side needs to be soft enough to provide flexibility for movement and on the other side needs to be resilient enough to protect us from environmental challenges such as trauma. Keratins are essential for the function of keratinocytes as they build the ‘skeleton’ of the cells. The importance of the keratin ‘skeleton’ for the stability of the skin is seen in patients with epidermolysis bullosa simplex (EBS) who carry mutations in keratins. Although the mutant keratins can still form a cell ‘skeleton’ it is extremely fragile and cannot withstand stress very well resulting in blistering and skin coming off upon the mildest touch. There is no cure for these inherited diseases and our team is currently developing a gene therapy for EBS.
There are more than 11 varieties of keratins present within distinct cell types within the epidermis but their specific roles for the stability of the skin are unknown. One of our projects addresses this question by investigating the response of keratinocytes grown in the lab and engineered to contain different sets of keratins to stretching.
Epidermal and keratinocyte response to mechanical stress.
Development of TALEN-mediated gene therapies for blistering skin diseases.
Peer reviewer for funding bodies: Wellcome Trust, British Skin Foundation (BSF), Medical Research Council (MRC), Sparks
Peer reviewer for scientific journals: Journal of Cell Science, British Journal of Dermatology, Stem Cells, BMC Cell Biology, BMC Dermatology, Experimental Dermatology, Archives of Dermatological Research, Integrative & Comparative Biology
Ichthyosis Support Group, British Skin Foundation
North Eastern Skin Research Fund, The Psoriasis Association,German Research Foundation (DFG), Newcastle Health Care Charity/Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Charity, NorthEast England Stem Cell Institute (NESCI), The One NorthEast (ONE), Fritz Thyssen Stiftung, Bonner Forum Biomedizin, Köln Fortune
epidermal stem cells, keratinocyte stem cells, keratinocytes, epidermis, intermediate filaments, keratins, mechanical signalling, TALEN, gene therapy, epidermolysis bullosa
CMB 3000 Research Projects
MSci Biomedical Sciences Research Projects
MRes in Medical & Molecular Biosciences: Stem Cells & Regenerative Medicine
PhD student supervision