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Hair Stem Cells Not Just for Baldness

Stem Cells From Mouse Whiskers Can Develop Into Nerve Cells
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March 28, 2005 -- Stem cells from hair follicles can give rise to new nerve cells, researchers report.

The finding could lead to a new, accessible source of stem cells for therapeutic uses, they report. Stem cells have drawn a lot of attention, as they can develop various kinds of cells in the right conditions.

Adult stem cells are found in various tissues in the body and can reproduce themselves into various forms of the cells found within the same type of tissue. Researchers say by harnessing a stem cell's natural ability to reproduce and replenish cells, they may be able to develop new therapies to treat disease.

In 2004, other scientists identified adult stem cells in hair follicles from mice.adult stem cells in hair follicles from mice. They mixed those stem cells with skin cells, transplanted them into hairless mice, and saw new hairs grow.

Now, the new study, also involving mice, indicates that stem cells from hair follicles can do more than make hair grow.

In this study, researchers put the stem cells into lab cultures and watched what happened over the next two months.

Within a week, the stem cells started to give rise to cells surrounding a normal hair follicle. They developed into nerve, muscle, and skin cells.

Raising the Bar

Next, the researchers went a step further. They took stem cells from the lab and transplanted them into hairless mice.

Within a week, the cells were on the move, migrating into position under the skin of the mice. After 14 days, the cells had developed into nerve cells, say the scientists.

The hair follicle stem cells are "relatively primitive," write the researchers. That widens the cells' range of possibilities, letting them make different kinds of cells, not just the type seen in hair.

The researchers included Yasuyuki Amoh of Japan's Kitasato University School of Medicine, San Diego's AntiCancer, Inc., and the University of California, San Diego. The report appears in the early online edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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