It may be possible to grow new hair follicles, according to scientists studying mice.
The scientists -- who included George Cotsarelis, MD, associate professor of dermatology at the University of Pennsylvania -- report their findings in Nature.
They noticed that in lab tests, adult mice grew new hair follicles in skin healing from wounds.
Cotsarelis and colleagues found that the mice's wound-healing process involved the release of proteins called wnts.
Those proteins made mature skin cells that don't normally make hair during wound healing behave like embryonic skin cells, giving rise to new hair follicles.
"We showed that wound healing triggered an embryonic state in the skin which made it receptive to receiving instructions from wnt proteins," Cotsarelis says in a University of Pennsylvania news release.
The researchers note that the wound-healing process may be a window of opportunity for mammals to generate new hair follicles via wnt proteins.
If so, that process might inspire new treatments for hair loss, wounds, and other degenerative skin disorders, write the researchers.
"We've found that we can influence wound healing with wnts or other proteins that allow the skin to heal in a way that has less scarring and includes all the normal structures of the skin, such as hair follicles and oil glands, rather than just a scar," says Cotsarelis in the news release.
The study didn't involve any tests on people.
Cotsarelis and his University of Pennsylvania colleague, Mayumi Ito, PhD, are listed as inventors on a patent application related to new hair follicle creation, notes the University of Pennsylvania, which owns that patent.
Cotsarelis also co-founded and has ties to a start-up company called Follica, which licensed the patent, states the University of Pennsylvania.
This article was reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD.
SOURCES: Ito, M. Nature, May 2007; vol 447: pp 316-321. News release, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. News release, Nature.