The hoary saying that there is no cure for jealousy or baldness may be a thing of the past.
Scientists from the University of Pennsylvania have reported in the journal Nature, that it may indeed be possible to grow new hair follicles. The findings, which stemmed from a study examining wound healing in animal models, showed that mice were able to grow new hair follicles over skin newly formed , during wound healing.
The trick word, the scientists say is wnts. The study led by George Cotsarelis found that the mice's wound-healing process involved the release of proteins called wnts.
Those proteins made mature skin cells that do not 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 said 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.
Wounding, they report, triggers new hair-producing follicles to form. This was a claim that was first made half a century ago after experiment on rabbits but which was written off as unconvincing. The new work shows the effect is real and a consequence of a molecular signal involving the protein called wnt. Following wounding, the signal increases the number of regenerated hair follicles.
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," Cotsarelis was quoted.
The study did not involve any tests on people.
Cotsarelis and his University of Pennsylvania colleague, Mayumi Ito, 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.
"This is an extremely exciting discovery and shows promise for treatment of follicular disorders such as hair loss and unwanted excess hair," says Dr Vera Price, director of the University of California, San Francisco Hair Research Center and scientific advisory board member of Follica.
Dr Denis Headon, University of Manchester was quoted: "Up to now we thought that the number of hair follicles we have is set before we were born and can only go downhill from there. This work shows that new hair follicles are made in adult skin, at least when it is healing a wound. The researchers also found a way to artificially soup up this natural process. It might be simpler than we thought to make new hair follicles as a treatment for hair loss", he added.