Scientists Plan to Make Bald Heads Hairy Once Again

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A group of American scientists have discovered how to make the skin of laboratory mice grow new hair follicles, complete with hair, by using a protein that stimulates follicle generating genes in skin cells under wound conditions. They hope this discovery may one day lead to treatments for baldness and abnormal hair growth.

George Cotsarelis and his colleagues from the Department of Dermatology, Kligman Laboratories, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, in Philadelphia, found that when skin is wounded, the cells of the epidermis take on the youthful properties of stem cells and generate new hair follicles that are capable of growing new shafts of hair. Positive results have only been achieved in mice so far, but it is likely that human skin will also respond similarly.

In their first experiment described in their Nature paper, Cotsarelis' team surgically removed patches of skin from mice and observed the wounds as they healed over during the following weeks. They noticed that skin cells that had not previously been associated with hair follicles behaved like stem cells and expressed genes that generate hair follicles during skin development. They found that hair growth occurred regardless of the age of the mice, although the new hair was colorless.

In a second experiment, the team looked at genetically engineered mice that express higher levels of a protein called Wnt. These mice produced twice the density of hairs in the normal mice under the same wounding conditions.

"Most people studying skin wounding don't pay a lot of attention to hair follicles. They view wound closure as the end-point," he said.

Cotsarelis helped to found a company called Follica in which he has a stake. This company will develop and market a human follicle regrowth treatment based on a patent currently being filed by the university. The researchers plan to develop a dermabrasion gel that gently damages the skin and initiates the wounding process, together with a topical cream to switch on the follicle generating genes. But it's still early in the development process.

"If it all went perfectly then possibly in two to three years we would have a product, but that's very optimistic," he said.


Wnt-dependent de novo hair follicle regeneration in adult mouse skin after wounding by Mayumi Ito, Zaixin Yang, Thomas Andl, Chunhua Cui, Noori Kim, Sarah E. Millar and George Cotsarelis. Nature 447, 316-320 (17 May 2007). doi:10.1038/nature05766 [abstract and PDF]

MedicalNews (quotes)


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So how long will be it before I start getting "Regorw yur ha|r" spam, and/or Orac features some woo-woo version of this some Friday?

Wouldn't this really be a step backwards?

It seems to me that humans have been acquiring pattern baldness of the body for some time now. Certainly some form of lowbrow finger-pointing at the vestigially challenged hairline has been going on since the first bare ass appeared...though surprisingly the pattern baldness has clearly won the selection game.

Now science wants to reverse all this hard won progress?

When my Dad was going through chemotherapy, he noted that rather more hair grew back afterwards, than fell out during the therapy.

According to his peer advisors of the time, this is usual, at least for those of us with Male Pattern Baldness.

By David Harmon (not verified) on 19 May 2007 #permalink

While I think this is interesting on several levels, it saddens me that normal balding (as opposed to hair loss from a disease, injury or treatment for one of these) is considered to be something that needs "treatment" and for which much money is being spent to find a "remedy". This is a social perception problem that can be "remedied" with social change, not an illness requiring treatment (please correct me if I am wrong).

Meanwhile, I hope this work will be found to be important in identifying new ways to approach stem cell research for treatment of diseases like Parkinsons.



By Chardyspal (not verified) on 19 May 2007 #permalink

When I read this I laughed.

It reminded me of the the warning about one of the side effects of depakote, which is hair loss. Maybe people who take depakote only have to be worried about being crazy and not being crazy AND bald.

Chardyspal: When Rogaine first came out (at $1000/month), my family offered to help pay for it for me. I told them I had no intention of spending the rest of my life peering into the mirror, wondering "did it creep back another quarter-inch?". It helped that my Dad, uncles, and male cousin all had male-pattern baldness. (Even if I am the baldest of the lot... ;-) )

By David Harmon (not verified) on 22 May 2007 #permalink