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Hair Loss Health Center

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Banishing Baldness?

Scientists Inch Closer to Figuring Out How Hair Grows
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

July 31, 2008 -- How does hair grow? We really don’t know. It’s a fascinating and complex system of chemical signals being sent to the follicles to tell them when to produce and when to rest. But it’s still largely a mystery.

Now scientists at Stanford are a step closer to cracking the code of hair growth.

They discovered that in mice, a certain molecule, called laminin-511, sends a signal to cells urging hair follicles to grow.

Could this lead to the death of the comb-over?

“Perhaps,” says Stanford lead researcher Jing Gao, MD, in prepared statements. “Now we have a signal protein that can support the microenvironment for hair development, and maybe also for hair renewal."

Researchers believe this chemical signal may also play a role in how other body parts, like the kidneys, eyes, ears, nose, and face, develop. Or it could also be instrumental in telling the body how to create arms and legs.

For the study, the researchers genetically engineered mice embryos so they lacked laminin-511. They discovered that as mammals develop, the molecule laminin-511 acts like a good hostess at a cocktail party, bringing together two nervous people and getting them to talk to each other.

In this case the molecule brings together two cell compartments of the skin. Those cells basically start to chat, triggering a cascade of information that leads to creating hair follicles.

"There are a lot of different causes of hair loss. Further research will test whether any forms of hair loss are influenced by laminin-511," study co-author Peter Marinkovich, of Stanford's Program in Epithelial Biology, says in a news release.

"Injecting laminin-511 into the skin might, under some circumstances, promote hair growth," he says.

If that works, then Marinkovich says the laminin-511 could be used as a drug, slipped under skin where you want hair to grow. It could also potentially block hair growth by injecting antibodies against laminin-511.

The research team included members from Stanford University School of Medicine, Harvard Medical School, Osaka University, and the Washington University School of Medicine.

The results are published in the Aug. 1 issue of Genes & Development.

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