Kewaunee Lecture: Skin Stem Cells: Coping With Stress

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

3:30 pm - 4:30 pm
Fitzpatrick Center Schiciano Auditorium

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Elaine Fuchs, Ph.D., Rebecca C. Lancefield Professor and Laboratory of Mammalian Cell Biology and Development, The Rockefeller University


Kewaunee Poster Session

12:00pm – Fitzpatrick Center Pre-Function Area

Kewaunee Lecture

3:30pm - Schiciano Auditorium

Achievement and Poster Awards

4:30pm - Schiciano Auditorium

Kewaunee Reception
5:00pm - Fitzpatrick Center Atrium


Adult tissue stem cells have the ability to self-renew long term and differentiate into one or more tissues. Many stem cells are used sparingly to replenish cells during normal homeostasis. However, even stem cells that are quiescent must be able to respond quickly to injury in order to fuel rapid tissue regeneration. How stem cells balance self-renewal and differentiation is of fundamental importance to our understanding of normal tissue maintenance and wound repair. The regulatory circuitry governing this normal balancing act is must be intricately regulated in normal homeostasis, and then transiently altered to cope with injury responses. Increasing evidence suggests that these mechanisms go awry in inflammation and become hijacked in cancers.

Skin epithelium is an excellent model system to understand how stem cells remain quiescent during times of minimal wear and tear and how these cells become mobilized during the cyclical bouts of natural tissue regeneration that occur during hair growth. We’ve identified and characterized at a molecular level the skin’s stem cells and shown that they reside in distinct niches that impart to the stem cells their behavior both in task and in the molecular properties they display. We use high throughput genetic and genomic approaches to dissect at a molecular level how stem cell interactions with their niches differ in homeostasis and natural tissue regeneration. This foundation has enabled us to now dissect how the normal process of stem cell activation goes awry in stresses from inflammation, wounding and mechanical trauma, and oncogenes. This knowledge has begun to reveal clinically important insights such as how heterogeneity in the tumor microenvironment can confer to stem cells resistance to chemotherapy, and how epigenetic memory of prior inflammatory encounters can endow skin stem cells with the ability to respond quicker to the next inflammatory assault.  Our global objective is to apply our knowledge of the basic science of epithelial stem cells to unfold new avenues for therapeutics


Elaine Fuchs is a renowned for her research in skin biology, its stem cells and associated genetic disorders, particularly cancers. She received her Ph.D. in Biochemistry from Princeton. After postdoctoral research at MIT, she joined the faculty at University of Chicago. In 2002, she relocated to Rockefeller University, where she is the Rebecca C. Lancefield professor of Mammalian Cell Biology and Development. Fuchs has been an Investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute since 1988. Her awards and honors include the Richard Lounsbery Award from the National Academy of Sciences, the National Medal of Science from the President of the United States, the L’Oreal-UNESCO Award for women in science, the Albany Prize in Medicine, the March of Dimes Prize in Developmental Biology, the Pasarow Award in Cancer, the Pezcoller Award in International Cancer Research, the EB Wilson Award in Cell Biology, and in 2017, the Vanderbilt Prize for science and for mentoring women scientists, and the McEwen Award for Innovation in Stem Cell Research. Fuchs is an elected member of the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Medicine, American Philosophical Society and European Molecular Biology Organization (foreign member). She holds honorary doctorates from NYU School of Medicine, University of Illinois, Albany Medical College and Harvard University. She is past-President of American Society for Cell Biology, The International Society for Stem Cell Research and the Harvey Society. She serves on the NYAS Board of Governors and NAM Council.  She’s trained 30 graduate students and 100 postdocs, most now at academic universities and medical schools.  Her latest work focuses on cancer (tumor-initiating) stem cells of squamous cell carcinomas, one of the most common and life-threatening cancers for which therapeutics are limited. Her science dissects how tumor stem cells form, survive and respond to ever-changing and stressful microenvironments.



King, Pamela