Baldness may soon be a thing of the past, say researchers working at the University of Chicago.
A recently discovered molecule called beta-catenin may be the trigger instructs embryonic cells to become hair follicles. Howard Hughes, author of the published report believes, “this is exciting because current treatments for baldness only work if there are living follicles left, or if the patient undergoes hair transplant surgery.”
Follicle formation is a once-a-lifetime event that ordinarily happens while the embryo is forming. But Hughes team induced hair follicle formation in the mature skin cells of mice. The result: genetically engineered mice were exceptionally hairy. In some mice, most skin cells became hair follicles.
Hughes’ research shows that new follicles can be created from adult skin cells under certain conditions, specifically when beta-catenin and LEF-1 (which is expressed only in cells that will eventually become hair follicles) form a transcription factor that binds to the cell’s DNA. Under the right conditions, new hair can be formed in places where it has been lost.