Researchers in the United States believe they have discovered a treatment for baldness by blocking the chemical buildup that can cause it.
The University of California Riverside researchers discovered a single protein that appears to determine when hair follicles die. With this new knowledge, it may be possible to reverse the process and boost hair regrowth.
TGF-beta, a signalling protein that governs cell division, growth, and death, is the protein in question. As such, it performs critical functions such as wound repair and appears to be hijacked by cancer cells to promote uncontrolled proliferation. In this example, the researchers discovered that TGF-beta extends its function to cells within hair follicles.
“TGF-beta has two opposite roles,” said Qixuan Wang, co-author of the study. “It helps activate some hair follicle cells to produce new life, and later, it helps orchestrate apoptosis, the process of cell death.”
The researchers discovered that the amounts of the protein governed these two conflicting pressures. Cell division is stimulated with exactly the correct quantity of TGF-beta, encouraging follicle expansion. When there is too much, the cells undergo apoptosis, resulting in the loss of hair follicles and, as a result, baldness.
However, the team emphasises that this is not necessarily a one-way street.
Follicle stem cells are still latent and waiting to be awakened. Further study into how TGF-beta drives cell division and interacts with associated genes may one day lead to new treatments for baldness, alopecia, and other types of hair loss.
Hair follicle cells die on a regular basis, resulting in hair loss, a process that occurs approximately 100 times per day. However, each contains stem cells, which can make new hair-making cells, allowing the lost strand to recover.
In the case of baldness, this process is halted due to TGF beta.
“Even when a hair follicle kills itself, it never kills its stem cell reservoir,” said Wang.
“When the surviving stem cells receive the signal to regenerate, they divide, make new cell and develop into a new follicle. Potentially our work could offer something to help people suffering from a variety of problems.”