New York Scientists Awaken Cell Communication to Regrow Hair
It has long been a mystery why wounded skin remains hairless after it heels. Researchers at NYU School of Medicine appear to have made some progress toward understanding why that’s the case and, in the process, may have discovered a new potential treatment for hair loss.
The article, “Hedgehog stimulates hair follicle neogenesis by creating inductive dermis during murine skin wound healing,” published online in the journal Nature Communications in November 2018, indicates that the key is to encourage crosstalk among skin cells that form the roots of hair. That’s what the word, “hedgehog,” in the article title refers to – not the small spiny mammal.
Cells use something called the sonic hedgehog signaling pathway to communicate with each other. Think of it like the cellular version of the Internet. Information is zooming throughout your body right now as cells constantly send and receive signals. As described in this very good overview of cellular communication in Discover Magazine, a breakdown in communication is part of what allows cancer cells to grow unchecked.
What scientists know about the sonic hedgehog signaling pathway is that it is very active when hair follicles are formed when human embryos are developing in the womb. In wounded skin in healthy adults, this pathway seems to be disconnected, and as a result, hair follicles typically fail to grow in skin replaced after injury or surgery.
One concern is that scientists have associated the activation of the sonic hedgehog signaling pathway with the development of various cancers. This is something you typically don’t want to mess around with!
A Blast of Fibroblasts
The researchers, led by senior investigator and cell biologist Mayumi Ito, PhD, an associate professor in the Ronald O. Perelman Department of Dermatology at NYU Langone Health, focused on cells called fibroblasts, which help direct some of the biological processes involved in healing. These cells secrete collagen, which is the structural protein most responsible for maintaining the shape and strength of skin and hair.
The researchers also chose to target only fibroblasts located just beneath the skin’s surface where hair follicle roots first appear because they believe doing so would reduce or eliminate the risk of tumors. Let’s hope that’s the case, because no amount of new hair growth is worth increasing your risk of cancer.
Using laboratory mice, the researchers were successful at stimulating fibroblasts to flip the switch and turn on the sonic hedgehog signaling pathway to get communication between the cells flowing again. The researchers reported hair regrowth within four weeks after skin wounding in all treated mice. Hair root and shaft structures started to appear after nine weeks. Moreover, they observed no signs of hair growth in skin that was untreated, which they believe confirms that sonic hedgehog signaling was behind the hair growth.
“Now we know that it’s a signaling issue in cells that are very active as we develop in the womb, but less so in mature skin cells as we age,” said Dr. Ito in a news release from NYU Langone Health.
While this type of hair regrowth on damaged skin is certainly an unmet medical need, we at Arocha Hair Restoration are even more interested in Dr. Ito’s other goal: to figure out how to signal mature skin to grow new hair follicles on people who are experiencing hair loss from pattern baldness. We’ll be watching for further developments as Dr. Ito’s team pursues further investigations. Could they eventually identify likely drug targets for hair regrowth?
We also want to recognize the organizations that provided Dr. Ito and her team financial support. They include the National Cancer Institute, the National Institute of Arthritis, Musculoskeletal, and Skin Diseases, the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation and the New York Stem Cell Foundation.
In conclusion, we want to remind our community that scientific discoveries like may be exciting, but even if everything goes perfectly it would take a decade or more for a treatment to be cleared for use in humans. In the meantime, like us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ArochaHairRestoration to keep up to date on the latest hair loss treatments. Call us today at 713-526-HAIR or 832-225-6288 to learn more and book an appointment.