A group of cancer researchers from the Spanish National Cancer Research Centre (CNIO) may have uncovered a link between the body's immune system and hair growth. The research, published in PLOS Biology, reveals the connection scientists found between pathogen-eating immune system cells known as macrophages, and regenerative stem cells.
Miran Perez-Moreno, author of the study, explains, “We have discovered that macrophages, cells whose main function is traditionally attributed to fight infections and wound repair, are also involved in the activation of hair follicle stem cells in non-inflamed skin.”
According to the study's authors, the results of their research could assist with the development of new treatments and technology for cancer, regeneration and ageing. Macrophages are responsible for activating the regenerative skin stem cells they surround, which prompts hair growth, as shown in the diagram, right.
Until now, it has been unclear to researchers how skin cells communicate among themselves to trigger hair production, although many scientists have been exploring the subject recently, including stem cell researchers from the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Calgary.
Study author Perez-Moreno was working on separate research using mice when the discovery was made. After being treated with anti-inflammatory drugs, the mice began to grow new hair, leading her to believe there was a link between immune cells and stem cells. The team tested immune system cells to find out what role, if any, each played in hair growth, and discovered that during the apoptosis process, some macrophages naturally died.
It is this cycle of dying and living macrophages which activates stem cells, stimulating hair growth. The death of macrophages releases WNT signalling molecules, and the researchers discovered that by administering a WNT inhibitor to the macrophages, the growth of hair could be delayed, suggesting that WNTs have a role to play in activating hair follicle stem cells.
Whilst the research was conducted with mice, it's believed that the results could apply to humans too, and could potentially be used to treat conditions such as Alopecia Areata. The study's authors commented, “This line of research should facilitate the development of novel therapeutic strategies for the manipulation of undesired human hair loss or growth that target perifollicular immunocytes, such as macrophages.”
For those experiencing hair loss caused by immune system disorders such as Alopecia Areata and Alopecia Universalis, this research could mean significant changes in the way hair loss is treated.
Whilst there are currently a number of treatments for Alopecia Areata available - we have seen many promising regrowth results from minoxidil in Belgravia clients with Alopecia - there are fewer options for Alopecia Universalis treatment. So, although more research is needed to establish how these findings can be formed into an efficient and safe hair loss treatment, any new breakthroughs regarding these hair loss conditions will certainly come as very welcome news to sufferers.
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