Stem cell technology is the stuff of dreams. For medicine it holds the possibility of... well, just about everything. The ability to manipulate these building blocks of life has seen scientists take the first steps on the path to a new generation of medicine. The research has now extended to the study of hair loss and the promise of a cure, but may have much more significant implications...
What Is A Stem Cell?
A stem cell is an undifferentiated biological cell with the inherent capability of becoming a specialised cell. It is a process common to all multi-cellular organisms. For us, along with all the other mammals, there are two basic types. Embryonic and adult. We are interested in the adult stem cells as these are responsible for the replenishment and regeneration of tissue. Including hair.
Today, adult stem cells can be harvested in a number of ways. extracted from bone marrow or blood for example, before being grown and differentiated in the lab. These cells can then be returned to the patient to aid recovery.
Stem Cells And Hair Loss
Important research was published this week in the journal Science by the Tokyo Medical and Dental University. They had been taking a close look at the those stem cells responsible for hair growth. When they watched mice reach the age of around 18 months, when mice begin to lose hair, it was noticed that they had fewer hair follicles than previously. Also that the remaining follicles were smaller and thinner. Clearly something had occurred to change the follicles. Results were similar during a subsequent study on people ranging in age between 50 and 70.
COL171A1 is an important collagen protein that keeps follicles healthy. The scientists realised that the accumulation of DNA eventually suppressed supply of COL171A1. Starved of this protein the follicles shrunk and became more like normal skin cells. The team believe that by sustaining normal levels of the protein it could be possible to prevent androgenetic hair loss.., maybe even open the way for other treatments that prevent age related disease and decrepitude.
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