Cancer researchers in Texas have stumbled upon a finding that may lead to a cure for conditions that till now have been considered unfortunate yet unavoidable products of aging — balding and gray hair.
While studying how tumors form, scientists at the University of Texas (UT) Southwestern Medical Center identified the cell that triggers hair growth and learned why hair turns gray.
In their research, which was published online this month in Genes & Development, the authors observed that the protein KROX20 turns on in skin cells that develop into the hair shaft, according to a news release. These hair precursor cells then generate the stem cell factor (SCF) protein, which researchers demonstrated is necessary for giving hair its color.
In mice, researchers found that when they deleted the SCF gene in hair precursor cells, the rodents’ hair turned white. Similarly, when they deleted KROX20-producing cells, the mice became bald, according to the release.
Next, the team plans to study whether the function of KROX20 in cells and the SCF gene change with age, and somehow trigger hair thinning and graying, as well as male-pattern baldness.
Although the study was observational and only done in mice — a model that may not produce effective results in humans — researchers said in the release that their findings may offer promise for future hair treatment.
“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,” study author Dr. Lu Le, associate professor of dermatology with the Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center at UT Southwestern.