March 15, 2004 -- Hair follicles that are lost may not be gone forever.
For the first time, scientists have identified cells in mice that are capable of regenerating new hair follicles when transplanted into the skin. The finding is likely to spur research into new hair loss treatments for humans.
Although researchers have suspected that hair follicles contained stem cells (which are potent cells that can be coaxed into developing into multiple types of tissue), their existence had not been conclusively proven until now.
In the study, researchers used new cell labeling techniques to isolate the stem cells from hair follicles in mice and then showed that they developed into mature hair cells capable of producing follicles and hair growth.
"Ultimately, these findings provide potential targets for the treatment of hair loss and other disorders of the skin and hair," write research Rebecca J. Morris of Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, and colleagues.
Discovery Paves the Way for New Hair Loss Treatments
In the study, which appears in the April issue of Nature Biotechnology, researchers mixed the stem cells of follicles with skin cells and transplanted the cells into the skin of laboratory mice.
Once transplanted, the stem cells spontaneously grew into hair follicles that produced hair in the mice.
Researchers say they also identified a set of genes that are "turned on" by the stem cells, which may provide new targets for manipulating hair growth.
"Our results provide new avenues for increasing our understanding of epithelial stem cell biology and hair follicle growth and disease," conclude the researchers.
Currently, there are only two FDA-approved treatments for hair loss, Rogaine and Propecia.