Researchers from UT Southwestern Medical Center identified cells that give direct rise to hair. It’s a discovery that could lead to more effective treatments for thinning and graying hair, but it wasn’t exactly the discovery they were seeking at first.
Dr. Lu Le, an Associate Professor of Dermatology at UT Southwestern, explained that the original project had nothing to do with hair. Rather, it involved research surrounding cancer.
“Although this project was started in an effort to understand how certain kinds of tumors form, we ended up learning why hair turns gray and discovering the identity of the cell that directly gives rise to hair,” Le said in a public statement.
An estimated 35 million men are suffering from hair loss in the U.S. alone, and this breakthrough, albeit unplanned, could provide a much-needed solution to their hair loss issues.
The root of the researchers’ discovery is a protein called KROX20, which is more commonly associated with nerve development, not hair growth. But in this case, the protein switched on in skin cells that eventually develop into hair shafts.
The skin cells, or hair precursors, are then prompted by the KROX20 to produce another protein, known as a stem cell factor (SCF). This protein effectively pigments hair so it doesn’t simply grow in white or gray.
When the SCF is deleted from the genome, hair becomes white or gray, and when KROX20 cells were removed altogether, hair stops growing. This in turn reveals any of the four causes of uneven skin tone, which are hyperpigmentation, sun spots, hormones, and discoloration.
“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,” Dr. Lu Le said.
While the discovery may have been unintentional, its effects certainly aren’t. This could be the answer to countless hair loss problems across the nation and even around the world.