Published online 2 September 2004 | Nature | doi:10.1038/news040830-9


Hair-raising stem cells confirmed in mouse skin

Finding may lead to better burns and baldness treatments.

Stem cells could allow people to grow a new head of hair.Stem cells could allow people to grow a new head of hair.© Punchstock

Adult mouse skin contains stem cells that can generate skin and hair. Although the result has been hinted at before, the latest work is the first to prove that the cells are true stem cells, with the capacity to form new tissues. It's hoped the discovery will lead to treatments for baldness and burns.

Elaine Fuchs and her colleagues at the Rockefeller University in New York isolated the cells from hair follicles in mouse skin, establishing their identity by looking for proteins and genes specific to stem cells.

The researchers took individual cells and grew them up into hundreds of thousands of identical copies, then grafted them into a wound on the back of a hairless mouse.

The cells grew to form patches of fur, including skin, follicles, hair, and oil-producing glands.

"The hairs are quite dense. They look just like a normal fur coat," says Fuchs. She says the work is the first to show that individual cells isolated from hair follicles can form identical copies of themselves, and produce multiple types of tissue when grafted - making them true stem cells. The team’s results are published in Cell1.

Patchy success

"The next major advance in this field will likely come from using human tissue," says George Cotsarelis from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, Philadelphia, who has isolated similar cells2.

If humans are like mice, researchers could use a similar method to extract the stem cells, says Fuchs. The cells could be grown up and re-implanted into a balding scalp or wound. It's hoped they would then form new skin or hair as appropriate.

This would be a lot better than current baldness treatments. Transplants involve moving tufts of any remaining hair to cover the bald spot, often with patchy results. Drugs, such as Propecia, which affect male hormone levels, can slow hair loss in some men. But the medication needs to be taken indefinitely, putting some people off.

Similar transplant strategies could be used to treat burn victims. At present, patients receive grafts of the outer layer of skin, which do not contain hair follicles or sweat glands. Transplanted skin stem cells may be able to generate all of the missing cell types, says Fuchs. 

  • References

    1. Blanpain C., Lowry W. E., Geoghegan A., Polak L. & Fuchs E., Cell, 118. 635 - 648 (2004). | Article | PubMed | ISI | ChemPort |
    2. Morris R. J., et al. Nat. Biotech., 22. 411 - 417 (2004). | Article | PubMed | ChemPort |