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Finally a cure for baldness? Scientists regrow hair using stem cells

Hair loss, a prevalent issue that worsens with age, is akin to the increasing stiffness in our joints. Like joints, our hair follicle stem cells harden over time, impeding their ability to sprout hair. That’s the striking finding from a new study on baldness from Northwestern Medicine.

Remarkably, the researchers uncovered a way to soften these hair follicle stem cells, thus revitalizing their capacity to produce hair

The solution revolves around a tiny RNA molecule known as miR-205. By enhancing the production of miR-205, they found that the stem cells’ rigidity diminished, boosting hair growth in the process.

In their groundbreaking study published this week in PNAS, the Northwestern team used genetically modified mice as their subjects. The process was simple but profound. 

The researchers tweaked the stem cells genetically to overproduce miR-205. The result was an encouraging surge in hair growth among both young and old mice.

“The hair started to sprout in just 10 days,” said Professor Rui Yi. “We are not generating new stem cells here. Rather, we’re stimulating the existing ones to grow hair. Often, we have ample stem cells; they just may lack the capability to produce hair.”

This research underscores the potential of catalyzing hair growth by adjusting cell mechanics. “Due to the feasibility of delivering microRNA via nanoparticles directly into the skin, we’ll next test whether topically applied miR-205 can stimulate hair growth in mice. If that’s successful, we’ll plan experiments to explore whether this microRNA could potentially promote hair growth in humans,” said Professor Yi.

Conducting this study required the use of genetically engineered mouse models. The Northwestern team utilized advanced microscopy tools, such as atomic force microscopy, for measuring the stiffness, and two-photon microscopy for observing cell behaviors in live animals.

The study was a collaborative effort by Northwestern’s scientists, including Jingjing Wang, Yuheng Fu, and Kathleen Green.

To read the full, detailed study, please click here:  MicroRNA-205 promotes hair regeneration by modulating mechanical properties of hair follicle stem cells

More about baldness

Baldness, also known as alopecia, typically refers to hair loss from the head or body. The most common form is androgenetic alopecia, or male pattern baldness (MPB), which is usually characterized by hair receding from the lateral sides of the forehead and/or a thinning crown. 

Though often associated with men, women can also experience a similar type of hair loss, albeit typically less severe and usually not with the same patterns of baldness as in men. Androgenetic alopecia is often attributed to a combination of genetics and the male hormone dihydrotestosterone (DHT).

Hair loss can also be caused by a number of other factors, including various forms of alopecia, such as alopecia areata, a disease in which the body’s immune system attacks hair follicles; telogen effluvium, usually due to a physical or emotional shock to the system; and anagen effluvium, typically resulting from treatments like chemotherapy. Other factors that can contribute to hair loss include stress, hormonal changes, poor nutrition, certain medications, and underlying health conditions.

There have been numerous attempts to combat hair loss and promote hair growth. Here are a few notable ones:

Minoxidil (Rogaine)

Rogaine is an over-the-counter topical medication that is applied to the scalp. It works by prolonging the growth phase of hair follicles, but its exact mechanism is not entirely understood. While some people see modest regrowth or slower hair loss, others may see little effect.

Finasteride (Propecia)

Propecia is a prescription medication in pill form that is primarily used for treating male pattern hair loss. It works by blocking the conversion of testosterone into DHT, which can harm hair follicles.

Hair transplant surgery

This surgery involves moving small patches of skin, each with a few hairs, from one part of the scalp to another. It’s a more permanent and invasive option than medication.

Laser therapy 

Certain FDA-approved low-level laser devices are marketed to help stimulate hair growth, though their efficacy is a topic of debate.

PRP (Platelet-Rich Plasma) therapy

This involves injecting your own blood (after it’s been centrifuged to concentrate the platelets) into your scalp to stimulate hair growth. The science behind this is still relatively new and results can be variable.

Stem cell therapy

Stem cell therapy is a newer and promising field of research that is still in experimental stages. It involves using stem cells to generate new hair follicles.

It’s important to note that not all treatments work for all individuals, and what works best will often depend on the cause of hair loss, the individual’s health status, and other factors. Always consult with a healthcare provider before starting any treatment for hair loss.


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