A team of researchers considers that they found the most likely cause of baldness and a graying hair. This came as a chance discovery that may help treat one of the most common but still not well-understood problems.
Baldness and Gray Hair, Common but Unknown
Hair loss and a graying color are quite common problems. However, although researchers have been studying them for some time, they had yet to establish their exact biological cause. This new study on the matter was led by Lu Le, from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.
Lu Le stated that this was quite a chance discovery and also a game changer. Initially, he and his team set out to study tumors. They were analyzing Neurofibromatosis Type 1, a rare genetic disorder characterized by the growth of tumors on nerves.
While doing so, they found “hair progenitor cells” which help hair grow and also determine its pigment. Previous studies showed that a bulge at the bottom of a hair follicle contains skin stem cells. As they were linked to hair growth, scientists were still unsure of the exact cause-effect relation.
Now, this latest study stumbled upon a particular protein which might explain it all. Named KRO20, this protein is already connected to nerve development. During their research, the team noted that KRO20 ‘switches on’ in the skin cells that eventually turn into hair shafts.
Then, the cells produce SCF or stem cell factor, another protein. As the two molecules are expressed, they advance on the hair bulb, connect with melanocyte cells, and eventually grow into hair. Still, this process depends on the molecules. If either KRO20 or SCF is missing, the process malfunctions. KRO20, in particular, was linked to baldness while SCF was connected to graying to white hair.
“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 these cosmetic problems,” said Lu Le.
The team’s current study was carried on with mice. Further studies will have to analyze this connection in humans. Le and his team reported that they are already working on a new project targeting this exact thing. They also published a paper with the results of their first study in the journal Genes & Development.
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