Stem cell discovery could lead to hair loss treatments

CALGARY – New research from the University of Calgary may hold the key to restoring hair growth.

The findings, published in the scientific journal Developmental Cell this week, identify the existence of a skin stem cell in adult hair follicles that may one day be targeted to stimulate new hair growth after injury, burns, disease or aging.

The discovery is being called an important a step towards new hair loss treatments.

“We hope that we can ultimately stimulate these cells with drugs to replenish or rejuvenate the cells that are responsible for inducing hair growth,” says assistant professor in stem cell biology at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine Jeff Biernaskie, PhD.

Hair follicles undergo a constant cycle of regeneration and degeneration, and Biernaskie wanted to identify the stem cells that oversee that cycle.

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Biernaskie’s team discovered that a small number of dermal sheath cells could self-renew, and gave rise to hundreds of new cells in each hair follicle.

He says the discovery gives researchers a greater understanding of how hair follicles regenerate and it opens the door to creating therapies targeting stem cells to restore hair growth.

However, it could be a decade before such therapies are developed.

Biernaskie’s research holds hope for animals as well as humans.

Animals suffer skin diseases and injuries similar to people, and he says anything that improves the understanding of stem cells in healing and regeneration in people is also applicable to healing in animals.

The work was funded by grants from Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHR) the Stem Cell Network and Calgary Firefighters Burn Treatment Society.