A messenger molecule was recently discovered that can turn
mice's skin cells into hair follicles. Very hairy rodents have
been created by researchers who induced follicle formation in
mature skin cells, an event that usually only happens in embryos.
Their findings, reported in the journal Cell, indicate that
a molecule called beta-catenin may be a key message that tells
cells in the embryo to become hair follicles, suggesting treatments
for premature baldness and even applications in agriculture,
such as sheep genetically altered to grow dense wool.
Prof Elaine Fuchs, who led the research team at the Howard
Hughes Institute at the University of Chicago, said: "This
is exciting because current treatments for baldness only work
if there are living follicles left, or if the patient undergoes
hair transplant surgery. Our research shows that new follicles
can be created from adult skin cells if certain molecular players
are induced to act."
One member of the team, Dr Uri Gat, said that the find was
exciting because hair development in mouse and man is very similar.
However, he said that although this is the first time follicle
growth has been triggered in a live animal, a great deal more
research must be done before it can be turned into a treatment.
He said: "This is a very first insight into hair development,
the first step towards - perhaps - clinical application. However,
when you understand the process, you may indeed regulate it."
problem is that the genetically engineered skin of some transgenic
mice in this study made an endless supply of beta-catenin
and benign follicle tumors formed. As well as switching on
beta-catenin production, we need to know how to switch off the
the hair follicle has been formed. Otherwise hair follicles
may mutate under the influence of too much beta-catenin. Clearly
is no the only promoter of hair follicle induction, it must
work in combination with many other chemicals to form an adult
follicle. Research must be done to understand how beta-catenin
works and interacts with other chemicals.