Special Skin Cells May Grow New Hair, Skin

Skin Cells Act Like Stem Cells and May Lead to New Treatments for Baldness, Burns

From the WebMD Archives

Sept. 2, 2004 -- Special cells nestled within the hair follicles in the skin may have the same properties as stem cells and may offer a new way to treat hair loss and burns, according to a new study.

Researchers found cells within the skin of mice that may have the ability to eventually reverse baldness and improve wound healing by multiplying and creating new hair and skin cells.

"We've identified cells within skin that bear all the characteristics of true stem cells" -- the ability for self-renewal and the multipotency required to become various types of tissue, such as skin and hair, says researcher Elaine Fuchs, a cell biologist at Rockefeller University, in a news release. "The results demonstrate for the first time that individual cells isolated from hair follicles can be cultured in the laboratory and retain a capacity to make multiple cell types when grafted."

The results appear in the Sept. 3 issue of the journal Cell.

Skin Cells Serve as Stem Cells

Embryonic stem cells, which are harvesting from an embryo in the early days of development, have the ability to grow into hundreds of types of cells within the body. But research using these types of cells is controversial, and federal funding for research on embryonic stem cells is limited in the U.S.

In contrast, adult stem cells found in various tissues in the body can only reproduce themselves into various forms of the cells found within the same type of tissue. Researchers say by harnessing stem cells' natural abilities to reproduce and replenish cells, they may be able to develop new therapies to treat disease.

In this study, researchers demonstrated that a mammal's hair follicle, in this case mice, has a reserve of stem cells known as the bulge that can be mobilized to create many different types of cells needed to produce new hair and skin.

When the bulge cells were grafted onto the backs of hairless mice, they were able to reproduce and grow into new skin and hair follicles.

Researchers say their studies so far have been limited to mice, but the presence of these cells in mice hold promise for finding similar cells in human skin, which may lead to new treatments for baldness, burns, and wound healing.

Furthermore, as more is known about what separates embryonic stem cells from the more accessible adult stem cells, they may be able to learn how to manipulate adult stem cells into new uses.

WebMD Health News


SOURCES: Blanpain, C. Cell, Sept. 3, 2004; vol 118: pp 635-648. News release, Cell Press.
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