Researchers Find Stem Cells That Regenerate Nails

Normal function helps with growth, but if nail is damaged, cells focus on repair

From the WebMD Archives

By Robert Preidt

HealthDay Reporter

MONDAY, Nov. 24, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Researchers have discovered the stem cells that allow your nails to grow back after you lose them.

Using mouse nail cells, University of Southern California scientists identified stem cells that can perform two roles. In normal conditions, the stem cells assist in the growth of both the nails and nearby skin. However, if a nail is damaged or destroyed, the stem cells focus exclusively on nail repair, according to the study.

"That was a very surprising discovery, since the dual characteristic of these nail stem cells to regenerate both the nail and skin under certain physiological conditions is quite unique and different from other skin stem cells, such as those of the hair follicle or sweat gland," principal investigator Krzysztof Kobielak said in a university news release.

The researchers wonder if it might be possible to get these nail stem cells to produce other types of tissue. If so, it could lead to new ways to help people with everything from nail and finger defects to severe skin injuries and amputations.

Findings from the study were published online recently in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.