Hair follicles could help cure paralysis, neurological disease
New cell source will build neurons, blood vessels, brain tissue
Laura Payton, The Province
Published: Wednesday, June 13, 2007
Stem cells found in hair follicles could one day heal people with paralysis or neurological diseases, says a doctor coming to Vancouver for the fifth International Congress on Hair Research today.
Stem cells can be grown into different types of tissue. The ones thought to have the most potential to heal are embryonic stem cells, which are controversial because the embryo is destroyed when the cells are harvested.
“We think that hair-follicle stem cells may be an alternative for many of the applications,” said Dr. Robert Hoffman, a San Diego researcher.
They’re very readily accessible [and] it’s not an invasive procedure."
Hoffman’s research team found that hair-follicle stem cells could form the cells that build neurons, blood vessels, muscle cells and brain tissue.
In an experiment to be presented at this week’s congress, mice with severed spines regained partial use of their legs after stem cells originally from hair follicles were injected into their spinal column.
A laboratory at the University of British Columbia (UBC), Canada, is also delving below the skin’s surface to look at hair follicles.
Researchers know that hair follicles provide the cells that regenerate and heal skin.
The UBC lab, one of only a few that deal with hair research, is investigating the connection between the immune system and hair growth, as well as between hormones, aging and hair growth.
Much of the university lab’s research, however, will apply to solving pattern baldness by implanting cultured hair cells into bald skin.
“We’re still a few years away from [making it a standard procedure]” said Dr Kevin McElwee , the lab’s clinical director and one of a few people in the world with a doctoral degree in hair biology.
But people looking for a new baldness treatment can take comfort in the researchers’ empathy for them.
“There are a number of us [in the lab] who are motivated to find a treatment for pattern baldness,” admitted McElwee.