Tiny stem cells hidden within hair follicles can be induced to grow skin, hair follicles and hair, scientists reported yesterday. The work, done in mice, suggests it may eventually become possible to banish baldness and to improve treatment for burn patients.
The next step, said researchers at Rockefeller University in New York City, is to isolate the same kinds of hair-making stem cells from humans and see whether similar results can be achieved.
The possibility that bald heads can be revitalized now looks better, but as cell biologist Elaine Fuchs warned: "Don't hold your breath. You'll still need a hat to disguise your pate for the foreseeable future. I'd love to say a cure is right around the corner, but quite frankly a lot of research needs to be done before we get to that point."
Fuchs, also affiliated with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in Chevy Chase, said her team grew hair follicles from mouse stem cells and successfully implanted them into the skin of nude mice, and they soon began producing ordinary mouse fur.
"We saw quite a density of hairs, in some cases a density that is very similar to that of normal mouse fur," she wrote in the journal Cell.
Nude mice were used because they have no immune system that would reject implanted cells, and they have no follicles to grow their own hair. Thus success is very easy to spot.
"We are not yet able to achieve such [hair] density 100 percent of the time," Fuchs added. But, "the fact that we do get such density in some cases tells us the system is working well. We just need to tweak it to the point where we can get such results consistently."
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