Mouse models are exceptionally informative and powerful model systems for understanding cell and molecular biology. Unlike people, these humanely-treated animals can be genetically tagged, with cellular properties studied from the earliest stages of development to advanced adult ages. We have undertaken comprehensive studies in mice, that suggest that stem cells are highly abundant and mitotically active cell populations in many subsites in the murine nasal cavity. Current objectives are focused on formal characterization of the molecular and transcriptional machinery that maintains healthy stem cell populations, and their cellular behavior in response to stress or injury. By understanding their functional capabilities, the true potential of these respiratory airway stem cells for use in human translational applications can be advanced.
One of the unique features of our science is that we have regular access to human tissue samples from consented patients undergoing nasal and sinus surgery who are also interested in assisting our research efforts. Removal of the inflamed, and sometimes infected, tissue from the sinuses helps patients feel better and improves their sinus condition, and simultaneously provides the laboratory a rich resource for valuable human tissue to answer questions relevant to human airway biology. We have to date found that human stem cell populations in the upper airway have overlapping properties to those from mouse models above. With this foundation, we will now undertake the work of exploring the molecular signatures that define these cells to understand their behavior and regulation. In the near future, we hope to harness the true potential of these naturally-occurring and abundant human stem cells for early clinical and translational cell-based therapeutic applications.