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Finding a cure for baldness may just be one step away. Researchers at the Indiana School of Medicine managed to grow from mouse stem cells hairy skin growth.
The first lab-grown skin tissue, which the researchers cultured, had hair follicles. It closely resembles natural hair than existing models. The tissue may also be useful in testing drugs, understanding hair growth, and reducing the practice of animal testing, Eureka Alert reported.
Forming the hair follicles
The study, published in Cell Reports, found that a single skin bud, developed in culture, can create both dermis and epidermis, the lower and upper layers of the skin. It allowed the hair follicles to form in the same way as it would in a mouse body.
But the team, led by Professor Karl Koehler, an assistant professor of otolaryngology, also found that they were generating skin cells besides the inner ear tissue. It led them to coax the skin cells into sprouting hair follicles, Metro reported. He said that they saw the organoids with the naked eye. Koehler described the organoids as like a little ball of pocket lint that floats around in the culture medium. Like dandelion seeds, the skin developed as a spherical cyst and the hair follicles grew outward in all directions.
Although the scientists failed to identify exactly what type of hairs developed on the organoid’s surface, they believe the skin grew various hair follicle types that were similar to that found naturally on the coat of a rodent.
Three or four different types of dermal cells and four types of epidermal cells made up the skin organoid. Since it was a diverse combination, the researchers said that it closely mimicked mouse skin than skin tissues previously developed by past experiments, none of which were capable of hair growth. Real skin has 20 or more cell types.
Coaxing the cells
It was Koehler who originally started using pluripotent stem cells from rodents. It can develop into any type of cells in the body to create organoids. When the team discovered they were generating skin cells, plus the inner ear tissue, they shifted towards coaxing the cells into sprouting hair follicles.
For the hair follicles to develop, the scientists observed that the two layers of skin cells must grow together in a specific way. Koehler said that when the epidermis grew in the culture medium, it started to take the rounded shape of a cyst. Then the dermal cells wrapped itself around the cysts. The hair follicles did not appear when the process was disrupted.
If the organoids are destroyed and the researchers tried to put it back together, it did not always generate hair follicles, Kohler said. He added that it is very important for the cells to develop together at an early stage to properly form skin and hair follicles.
A new roadblock
After the scientists discovered the recipe for lab-grown hair follicles, their next step is to overcome another roadblock in the study of in-vitro hair development. It is the physical limitations which prevent the hairs from shedding and regenerating.
Koehler explained that the shape of the tissue in culture causes the hair follicles to grow into the dermal cysts. But it left them with nowhere to shed. If the scientists would be able to figure out how to allow the hair follicles to complete the natural cycle from the culture medium’s artificial environment, the organoids could have vital implications for medicine and toxicology, the team believes.
According to Koehler, it could potentially be a superior model for testing drugs or looking at things such as the development of skin cancers in an environment that is more representative of the in vivo microenvironment. It would also allow scientists to limit the number of animals they use for research.
Meanwhile, South Korean scientists said they discovered the next big step in preventing baldness among humans and even possibly growing the hair back. Newsweek reported that scientists at the Choi Kang-yeoi of Yonsei University in Seoul found that when CXXC5, a protein, binds to the Dishevelled protein, the combination restricts wound regeneration and hair growth.
By adding a specially devised biochemical agent which blocks CXXC5, it could prevent the protein from binding to Dishevelled. The mice did not lose its hair when CXXC5 and Dishevelled did not bind. In the case of bald rodents, it even grew the hair back.
PTD-DMB, the biochemical agent, is a peptide or a short chain of amino acids that the researchers applied to the skin of bald rats for 28 days. Besides the peptide, the scientists also tried using valproic acid, a short chain of fatty acids. The mice regrew its hair after having lost it in both cases. But according to the American Hair Loss Association, in 95 percent of cases of hair loss in men, it is caused by male-pattern baldness.