Scientists in Texas searching for the cure for cancer may have stumbled upon another slightly-less-important cure: alopecia.
For those keeping score at home, alopecia means baldness.
Researchers at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center were studying a disorder known as Neurofibromatosis Type 1 (NT1) when they discovered an explanation for balding and hair greying, according to a press release from the Center. NT1 is a rare genetic disease that causes tumours to grow on nerves.
The study found that a protein called KROX20 turns on in skin cells that become hair shafts. The cells then produce a protein called a stem cell factor (SCF) which is essential for hair pigmentation.
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The researchers removed KROX20 from mice which in turn became bald. When the SCF was removed, the hair on the mice in the study went grey, growing white with age.
Although this project was started in an effort to understand how certain kinds of tumours form, we ended up learning why hair turns grey and discovering the identity of the cell that directly gives rise to hair,” lead researcher Dr. Lu Le, associate professor of dermatology with the Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center at UT Southwestern, said.
The study has yet to be conducted on humans so those hoping to see their grey go away or to make hair out of thin air may have to wait awhile.
“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,” Le said.