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Stem cell answer to beat the bald

By Andrew MCDOUGALL , 06-Jan-2014

A trio of studies have delved into the regeneration of hair follicles and described some of the factors that determine when hair grows, when it stops growing and when it falls out.

The research focuses on stem cells and sees ways for regenerative medicine to offer the means to banish baldness.

The lab of USC scientist Krzysztof Kobielak, MD, PhD has published a trio of papers in the journals Stem Cells and The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) looking at stem cells located in hair follicles (hfSCs).

These can regenerate hair follicles as well as skin, and are governed by the signaling pathways BMP and Wnt, which are groups of molecules that work together to control cell functions, including the cycles of hair growth.

Three studies

Authored by Kobielak, postdoctoral fellow Eve Kandyba, PhD, and their colleagues, the latest studies focus on how the gene Wnt7b activates hair growth. Without Wnt7b, hair is much shorter.

An earlier study identified a complex network of genes, including the Wnt and BMP signaling pathways, controlling the cycles of hair growth.

This further clarified the workings of the BMP signaling pathway by examining the function of two key proteins, called Smad1 and Smad5. These proteins transmit the signals necessary for regulating hair stem cells during new growth.

In their first paper, the research team states that reduced BMP signaling and increased Wnt signaling activate hair growth. The inverse keeps the hfSCs in a resting state.

Further discoveries

"Collectively, these new discoveries advance basic science and, more importantly, might translate into novel therapeutics for various human diseases," says Kobielak, who claims the discovery may have implications more than just hair growth.

"Since BMP signaling has a key regulatory role in maintaining the stability of different types of adult stem cell populations, the implication for future therapies might be potentially much broader than baldness -- and could include skin regeneration for burn patients and skin cancer."

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