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A real cure for baldness using stem cell therapy?
Medical News Today
Posted: April 29, 2004 - 0:00 PDT
Baldness is probably the one thing that causes men more anxiety than anything else in their life. Now, scientists believe they may have found a new way to reverse baldness and treat conditions like alopecia.

Scientists have identified stem cells or master cells in the hair follicles of mice. They found that these cells grow into hair follicles and produce hair when transplanted into skin. George Cotsarelis, Assistant Professor of dermatology from the University of Pennsylvania, said that the study could lead to new ways of treating hair loss in humans through drugs or surgery.

"This may lead to a new type of tissue engineering for treating baldness - for example, isolating hair follicle stem cells from the scalp and reconstituting hair follicles in bald areas," Dr Cotsarelis said. "I can't predict the future but this type of research certainly opens new avenues for developing new treatments for baldness."

The study, published in the journal Nature Biotechnology, isolated the stem cells within the bulbous follicle at the base of a hair shaft. Sometimes these follicles go into a permanent resting phase, halting hair regeneration. When the researchers transplanted the stem cells into the skin of other mice, hair follicles began to re-grow within four weeks.

"Now that we can isolate stem cells involved in hair growth, we can develop targets for manipulating hair growth," Dr Cotsarelis said.

Receding hairlines and the arrival of the bald patch are feared by men around the globe. Hair may start to disappear from the temples and the crown of the head at any time. For some men this process starts as early as the later teenage years, for most it happens in the late 20s and early 30s. Initially it may just be a little thinning that's noticed. Then, the absence of hair allows more of the scalp to become visible.

Some men are not troubled by this process at all. Others, however, suffer great emotional distress associated with a lack of self-confidence and sometimes depression.

In male pattern baldness, which is hereditary, the hair is usually lost at the temples and the crown. This happens because an over-sensitivity of the hair follicle to normal levels of testosterone switches the hair loss gene on. Not every hair follicle has this gene which is why some hair falls out whilst other hair doesn't. Other causes of hair-loss that are usually reversible include; iron deficiency anaemia; under-active thyroid; fungal scalp infection; some prescribed medicines; and stress.

Scientists have long-suspected that hair follicles contained stem cells. However, it has proved difficult to isolate these cells in humans. This latest study raises hopes that they can now track these genes and identify stem cells in human hair follicles. "Ultimately, these findings provide potential targets for the treatment of hair loss and other disorders of skin and hair," the researchers wrote.

While the discovery could lead to new treatments for baldness and conditions like alopecia, the researchers believe it may also help burn victims. "One problem with a burn is that the wound is never covered with hair follicles," said Dr Cotsarelis. "These cells have that capability so if we can isolate them and seed them onto a wound we can constitute skin that is more normal than currently possible."

Original article: http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/7786.php

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