Can Stem Cells Cure Baldness?

By Jocelyn SelimDec 3, 2004 6:00 AM


Sign up for our email newsletter for the latest science news

Courtesy of Rockefeller University

The patch of hair on this bald mouse’s back is the result of a single transplanted stem cell. The method may one day be used to grow hair on humans.

Patrick Stewart and James Gandolfini, take note. Biochemists led by Elaine Fuchs of Rockefeller University have isolated stem cells that may someday grow new hair on a bald head. This is more than a vanity project for the Rogaine set: The work could also lead to custom-grown skin grafts and a better understanding of how the body regenerates itself.

The skin’s ability to grow back after a wound led scientists to assume that it must contain stem cells, immature cells that can rapidly differentiate into many different types of tissue. Until now, however, nobody knew where such cells were located in the skin or how many kinds there might be.

Using fluorescent markers, Fuchs and her colleagues isolated two distinct populations of stem cells from mouse skin. The researchers then extracted the cells and grafted them onto genetically engineered hairless mice. Both cell populations caused the mice to develop thick patches of fur, along with all the other components of skin, including sweat and sebaceous glands.

These stem cells are different from the controversial ones extracted from embryos. “Embryonic stem cells are pluripotent, meaning they have the ability to become any type of tissue,” Fuchs says. “We know these stem cells are multipotent—they can become any epidermis-derived tissue—but beyond that, we don’t know.”

Fuchs is now working on isolating equivalent cells in humans. “To really treat baldness, you’d have to understand all the chemical pathways cells use to tell each other when to grow,” she says. “That could take a while.”

1 free article left
Want More? Get unlimited access for as low as $1.99/month

Already a subscriber?

Register or Log In

1 free articleSubscribe
Discover Magazine Logo
Want more?

Keep reading for as low as $1.99!


Already a subscriber?

Register or Log In

More From Discover
Recommendations From Our Store
Shop Now
Stay Curious
Our List

Sign up for our weekly science updates.

To The Magazine

Save up to 40% off the cover price when you subscribe to Discover magazine.

Copyright © 2023 Kalmbach Media Co.