ICRME Investigators Turn to Skin for Post-mortem Research

Why study skin?

Many genes are induced in organs, and the ICRME will focus on the skin, the largest organ of the body, for its post-mortem conatus research. Skin can live at a cellular level long after death and is a low energy consuming tissue that can harbor living cells longer than other parts of the body. Recent research demonstrates that skin cells could proliferate for 15 days when stored at room temperature (25˚C) or 49 days when refrigerated (4˚C). Skin also possesses cell plasticity—influencing tissue repair and cell survival. Our previous work has shown that the skin can undergo direct in vivo reprogramming, such as when we induced fetal developmental pathways in the skin to achieve vasculogenic reprogramming.

We are exploring the cellular process preceding and following death to further distill the human body’s inherent ability to self-regenerate — a process known as autopoiesis — to tell the story. This is a deep dive into the molecular and biological journey of cell survival post-mortem.

Our goal is to broaden possibilities for medical treatment, which could move biology and medicine away from positioning the life of organisms as completely unified and bracketed by only birth and death.

The research team will use three powerful technologies

  • Single cell RNA sequencing
  • Single cell ATAC sequencing
  • Spatial Analysis of gene expression

These technologies will help us better understand which molecular pathways are responsible for mounting survival response in component tissues after organismal death.

Research objectives

  • Understand postmortem changes in gene expression at the single cell level
  • Identify cellular clusters that adopt a survival/regenerative pathway after human death
  • Characterize novel pathways within these unique cellular clusters
  • Study what induces such survival/regenerative responses
  • Apply knowledge gained to improve health care for future generations