mice get new coats
Hair-loss sufferers have new hope today after a study of mice
offers potentially dramatic results through experimental gene
Johns Hopkins University’s Catherine C. Thompson, PhD,
and colleagues investigated a group of hairless mice that lacked
a gene called, appropriately enough, “Hairless”. Their
findings suggest a way for researchers to regenerate the hair
follicles of men and women suffering alopecia, or premature baldness.
Hair follicles are different from other skin cells in that they
behave more like tiny organs, with the ability to regenerate.
The life cycle of the hair cell is more complex that we might
think. Yes, the cells grow hair. But each follicle eventually
shrinks to a shadow of its former self. Then, somehow, the stem
cells inside the follicle come to life and regenerate the follicle,
which is then able to grow a new hair.
As alopecia patients know all too well, this process is imperfect;
when a problem exists, the result is hair thinning or baldness.
Lab researchers used the hairless mice (those lacking the Hairless
gene) as a model for humans suffering inexplicable hair loss.
At first, these mice grew normal-looking hair. But as the hair
follicles passed through the life cycle but failed the regenerate,
the hairs fell out and didn’t grow back.
Thompson’s team genetically engineered hairless mice to
produce the Hairless protein in specific cells within the hair
follicle, with amazing results. The mice grew – and continued
to grow – thick fur.
This research shows that the Hairless gene only works when it
receives specific chemical signals at exactly the right moment
during the follicle cycle. Scientists are now a step closer to
knowing what those signals are and when to give them.