As we age, many of us experience our hair turning grey or falling out. But despite how common these problems are, scientists are still having numerous difficulties identifying what are their biological causes. This means that, nowadays, we only have at our disposal quick fixes that only mask the problem such as dyes or hair pieces.
Well, this entire problem may change drastically after the latest discovery made by the scientific community. Apparently, researchers have managed to identify the specific cells that cause the hair to grow and develop pigment in mice, a major step in the development of a treatment for grey hair and baldness referred to.
In reality, researchers stumbled upon these “progenitor hair cells” while investigating a rare genetic disorder that causes tumors to grow on nerves, called Neurofibromatosis Type 1.
“Although this project was initiated in an effort to understand how to form certain types of tumors, we ended up learning why the hair turns grey and discovering the identity of the cell that creates hair,” said the lead researcher, Lu You, of the University of Texas Southwestern medical center.
“With this knowledge, in the future we hope to be able to create a composite topic or provide the necessary gene to hair follicles to correct these aesthetic problems“.
The researchers already knew that the stem cells of the skin contained in the bulb of the lower part of the follicles were involved in the growth of hair, but they were not quite sure of what caused these skin cells to become hair cells. Therefore, they could not try to find a way to attack them or to stimulate their growth.
Interestingly, while investigating the formation of tumors in nerve cells, they discovered the protein that differentiates these cells.
The responsible for this whole problem seems to be a protein known as KROX20, a protein that, although it is associated more commonly with neural development in the hair follicles of mice, it seems to be responsible for activating the mechanism that causes a skin cell to become the cell that causes the growth of the hair.
This protein makes these cells produce a protein called stem cell factor (SCF), and when both molecules are expressed in a cell, stood by the capillary bulb, interact with the cells of melanocytes that produce pigments and are converted into healthy and colorful hair.
In case of missing any of the two parties, the process goes wrong. When the team removed the cells producing KROX20, they discovered that hair stopped growing and the mice became bald.
In contrast, when they deleted the SCF gene into the “progenitor cells of the hair,” the hair of the animal turned white.
Although it is true that we share many biological similarities with mice, the study should be repeated in humans before we can get excited about it.
Even so, he and his team are already working on a project that will search for the KROX20 and the SCF in people with grey and thinning hair, in an attempt to determine whether it is related to baldness in humans.
The hope is that it will not only teach us why our hair changes as we age but also why we age in general.