Dr. Kursad Turksen’s research on skin cells may lead to new ways to protect premature babies, promote wound-healing, and treat various skin disorders

August 1, 2006

The skin is often called the largest human organ. As the body’s main external surface, it is also probably the organ most likely to be damaged. Dr. Kursad Turksen is studying skin cells at the molecular level with the goal of developing new treatments for skin conditions, wounds, burns, and genetic skin diseases.

Dr. Turksen and his team co-discovered a molecule called claudin-6 that plays a key role in the development and function of skin cells. They found that this molecule resides on the cell surface and acts as a gate-keeper, controlling which molecules are allowed in and out. In order to learn more, they developed a strain of mice that express excess amounts of claudin-6. They found that these mice have highly permeable skin, and they get dehydrated very quickly. Interestingly, very premature babies seem to suffer from a similar condition. It is hoped that further research on these mice may lead to insights into how to keep premature babies healthier. Another interesting application involves drug delivery: future research may reveal a way to temporarily increase the skin’s permeability so that drugs can be delivered by a patch rather than by injection.

Dr. Turksen is also investigating the role of claudin-6 in the differentiation of embryonic stem cells. Depending on various signals, these stem cells can form any tissue in the body. It turns out that claudin-6 may play a key role in directing stem cells to begin differentiating into skin cells. Understanding this pathway could lead to new drugs that would promote the regeneration of skin in wound and burn victims. As the development of skin is closely tied to the development of hair follicles, this research also has implications for developing new treatments for hair loss. Dr. Turksen is an expert in isolating and culturing stem cells, and he recently edited the following books on this topic: Embryonic Stem Cell Protocols I; Embryonic Stem Cell Protocols II; Human Embryonic Stem Cell Protocols.

Dr. Turksen is a Senior Scientist in the Hormones, Growth, and Development Program at the OHRI, as well as an Associate Professor at the University of Ottawa. His research is supported by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. Please see Dr. Turksen’s online profile for more information.