Researchers from the University of Southern California say they have made a number of new discoveries that could lead to potential hair regeneration treatment, and even skin regeneration. This is according to three studies published in the journals Stem Cells and The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
According to the American Hair Loss Association, around two-thirds of US men will have experienced some degree of hair loss by the age of 35, and around 85% of men will have significantly thinning hair by the age of 50.
Although hair loss is typically associated with men, figures state that women make up 40% of all hair loss sufferers in the US, showing that hair loss is a condition that can affect us all.
But the team of researchers, led by Dr. Krzysztof Kobielak, say they have uncovered some of the factors that determine when hair grows, when it stops growing, and when it falls out - factors that could lead to new treatments to combat baldness or receding hair lines.
Stem cells 'regenerate hair follicles'
For their first study, published in January this year, the research team discovered a series of genes, including the Wnt and BMP signaling pathways. These pathways were found to control hair growth cycles.
In detail, decreased signaling of the BMP pathway and increased signaling of the Wnt pathway triggered hair growth, while increased BMP signaling and reduced Wnt signaling caused hair follicle stem cells (hfSCs) to adopt a "resting state."
In another study, published in September this year, the investigators analyzed the function of two key proteins found in the BMP signaling pathway - Smad1 and Smad5.
The researchers discovered that these two proteins trigger signals that are critical for the regulation of stem cells during new hair growth.
In the latest study, published last month, the investigators analyzed how the gene Wnt7b - which they first came across in their initial study - activates hair growth. They found that impairment of Wnt7b stunts hair growth.
Overall, their research suggests that hfCS are able to regenerate hair follicles. The hfSCs are controlled by the BMP and Wnt signaling pathways, which combine to control cell functions, such as the cycles of hair growth.
Treatment potential 'broader than baldness'
But Kobielak says their findings could lead to new treatments, not only for baldness, but for many human diseases.
"Since BMP signaling has a key regulatory role in maintaining the stability of different types of adult stem cell populations, the implication for future therapies might be potentially much broader than baldness and could include skin regeneration for burn patients and skin cancer."
Earlier this year, Medical News Today reported on a study detailing a promising new treatment for baldness. It involves growing human hairs from a person's own dermal papilla cells - found inside the hair follicles.