Hopes for baldness cure as hairless mouse grows 'fur'

Thousands of pounds have been spent and hours have painful surgery have been endured. But man's eternal quest for a full head of hair could at last be at an end.

Thousands of pounds have been spent and hours have painful surgery have been endured. But man's eternal quest for a full head of hair could at last be at an end.

Scientists have shown that it is possible to grow the key skin cells responsible for regenerating hair, by identifying the important "stem cells" that can be coaxed into making the follicles that produce fresh hairs.

The researchers believe that the findings could also lead to using the same stem cells of the skin for replenishing damaged tissues or organs in order to heal wounds, and even to treat degenerative brain illnesses such as Parkinson's disease.

Elaine Fuchs of Rockefeller University in New York said that the stem cells of the skin have the capacity to develop into many different types of specialised tissues that can be used in transplant operations.

"The results demonstrate that individual cells isolated from hair follicles can be cultured in the laboratory and retain a capacity to make multiple cell types when grafted," Professor Fuchs said.

"We identified skin stem cells that bear all the characteristics of true stem cells - the ability for self-renewal and multipotency required to differentiate into all lineages of epidermis [skin] and hair," she said.

In a study published in the journal Cell, the scientists isolated the stem cells from the skin of a mouse and cultured them in the laboratory by bathing them in growth factors. They then transplanted the cells into the skin of a strain of hairless mouse.

"Previously, researchers have done similar transplant experiments with dissected parts of the hair follicle, and while they've had evidence that hair follicle structures were forming, they didn't see generation of hair," Professor Fuchs said.

"In contrast, in our experiments we saw quite a density of hairs, in some cases at a density that's very similar to that of normal mouse fur.

"While we are not yet able to achieve such density 100 per cent of the time, the fact that we do get such density in some cases tells us that the system is working well. We just need to tweak it to the point where we can get such results consistently," she said.

The researchers are trying to find similar stem cells in human skin with the hope to using the technique to reverse baldness, as well as culturing the cells for the treatment of other conditions, such as some forms of blindness.

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