The Southwestern Medical Center at the University of Texas have published details of a remarkable series of discoveries shedding light on the process of hair ageing.
UT Southwestern Medical Center
Beavering away at a huge facility covering 367 acres near Dallas Love Field airport are nearly 5000 men and women at the Southwestern Medical Center, part of the University of Texas. They are one of the world's leading academic medical centers, treating over 60 sub-specialities, several of which are ranked among the nation's best. Their Associate Professor of Dermatology Dr Lu Le explained that their amazing hair loss discovery came about quite by accident "Although this project started in an effort to understand how certain kinds of tumours form, we ended up learning why hair turns grey and discovering the identity of the cell that directly gives rise to hair".
The Science Behind KROX20
The study set out to investigate why a special type of cancer forms on nerves, part of that study led them to look at a particular protein with the exotic moniker of KROX20, they realised that the protein was turned on in skin cells that become the shaft of the hair. What they actually form are the precursor cells which in turn produce another protein called stem cell factor (SCF).. necessary for pigmentation. When the team deleted the SCF gene in the precursor cells on the mice in the test they saw their hair turn white. When they deleted the KROX20 producing cells the mice went bald and no new hair grew.
Professor Le, with masterful understatement explained his ambition for the findings "With this knowledge, we hope in the future to create a topical compound or to safely deliver the necessary gene to hair follicles to correct those cosmetic problems." The cosmetic problems he refers to are the issues behind why a follicle does not sprout hair. The fundamental issue for hair loss sufferers of all varieties. Even with Professor Le's understatement it is difficult not to spot the incredible leap we have just taken in our understanding of balding, of hair loss of every kind.
HIS Hair Clinic
We have written before about the challenges facing a pharmaceutical firm wanting to invest in the research and development required to bring a new hair loss product to market. So this accidental discovery of the gene that seemingly lies at the very heart of our problem was always likely to come from other more well funded research, and no research field is as well funded as cancer.
This really is wonderful news and a huge step forward in our understanding, though we might be a decade or more away yet before we get to anything like a product. The promise of a magic cream just became a little more real.
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