UCLA Researchers Find Stem Cell Activation Stimulates Hair Growth

Scientists at the University of California, Los Angeles might be close to pinpointing the cure for baldness. The research team has figured out a new means of activating stem cells in hair follicles that spur hair growth. If the method is perfected, it will pave a path toward the creation and use of drugs that empower those struggling with baldness or alopecia to re-grow their hair.

About the Research

The breakthrough was spearheaded by UCLA scientists Heather Christofk and William Lowry. The pair of scientists work at the university’s Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research. The publication¬†Nature Cell Biology¬†recently published the details of Christofk and Lowry’s work.

The Basics of Hair Follicles Stem Cells

The average person has heard of stem cells yet there is a general lack of awareness as to what, exactly, these cells are and the purpose they serve. Hair follicle stem cells are old cells in hair follicles. Originally positioned in human skin, these stem cells spur the growth of hair as time progresses.

Such cells are quiescent. This term means the cells are dormant yet activate quickly during cycles of new hair growth. The quiescence of hair follicle stem cells is governed by a number of variables. Hair loss results from the failure for these stem cells to activate.

About the Study

Christofk and Lowry found hair follicle stem cell metabolism is distinct from that of other skin cells. The nutrients required for the break down of cell division spur cellular metabolism. The result is the creation of energy and a reaction to the surrounding environment. The metabolism process relies on enzymes to alter nutrients to form metabolites.

As time progresses, hair follicle stem cells create a type of sugar referred to as glucose. Glucose is created in the body’s bloodstream. Glucose is processed to slowly form the metabolite referred to as pyruvate. Cells transmit pyruvate to mitochondria. This is the segment of the cell that creates energy. The cells can also transform pyruvate to a different metabolite known as lactate.

The UCLA research team used mice during the study. The creation of lactate was blocked to prevent the activation of stem cells in hair follicles. The researchers worked in unison with scientists from the University of Utah Rutter lab to catalyze the production of lactate in mice. This effort catalyzed hair follicle stem cell activation, boosting the hair cycle frequency and quality.

This is an important breakthrough as no one understood how increasing or decreasing lactate would affect stem cells in hair follicles. Now that the UCLA scientists have determined how altering the formation of lactate in mice impacts hair growth, they can now try to pinpoint drugs that can be added to the skin to generate the same result.

Drugs That Trigger Hair Follicle Stem Cell Growth

The researchers have pinpointed several drugs that change hair follicle stem cells in nuanced ways to catalyze lactate production. Though these drugs have been restricted to mice, the expectation is the results will be similar when provided to humans.

One such drug known as RCGD423, spurs the cell signaling pathway known as JAK-Stat that sends information from cells outside of the nucleus directly to the nucleus. Initial research indicates the activation of JAK-Stat boosts the formation of lactate. The increase in lactate causes hair follicle stem cells to activate and speeds up hair growth.

Another important drug of note known as UK5099, prevents pyruvate from moving into the mitochondria. The result is the formation of lactate in hair follicle stem cells, catalyzing the rate that hair grows.

A Solution for Baldness and Alopecia Might be Available in a Couple Years or Less

Though the initial studies of UK5099 and other drugs have been limited to mice during pre-clinical testing, the scientific community believes the drug will also speed up hair growth in human beings. The Food and Drug Administration might soon allow for the drugs to be used to promote human hair growth.

The UCLA research team should be commended for pushing forward with this important work that lends insight into the way in which stem cell activation occurs.

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