Despair not, ye men and women with ever-thinning pates: The follicles on your bald, shiny scalps aren’t dead. They’re just, sort of, sleeping.
Researchers at UC Irvine liken those follicles to a sea of 3D printers, just waiting for the command to power up. And they’ve figured out how to issue that command, recently micro-injecting a protein that sounds a bit like “Scooby Doo” into mice.
“Our results identify SCUBE3 as a hair-growth activator,” says their paper, published recently in the journal Developmental Cell. “When microinjected for 4 days … recombinant human SCUBE3 induced significant hair growth in mouse back skin.”
Not only did SCUBE3 wake up dormant follicles to grow mouse fur, it also worked to grow human hair that was grafted onto the mice. Given time, that human hair could grow (and grow, and grow) longer than the mouse’s own fur would grow; longer than the mouse’s body, longer than the mouse’s tail.
“The results were very promising,” said Yingzi Liu, one of the researchers.
If you’re envisioning a mouse with a Farrah Fawcett ‘do, you’re not alone. More than 50 percent of women experience balding, according to the American Hair Loss Association, and by age 50 about 85 percent of men are balding as well.
There are but two medications that treat or stave off hair loss: finasteride (Propecia, Proscar) and minoxidil (Rogaine, Ioniten). It can take at least 6 months for either treatment to start showing results. There’s a long road ahead before SCUBE3 can be tested on people, but the researchers have applied for a patent and hope to get to clinical trials in the next five or so years.
“Scientists really care not only that things work, but how they work,” said Maksim Plikus, professor of developmental and cell biology and a study author. “Right now, we’re focusing on a deep dive into the mechanisms. But we are excited to the level that we filed for a patent. And we’re thinking that it has potential for people.”
The issue here is dysfunctional signaling, he said. Stem cells for hibernating follicles aren’t disappearing; they’re just “extremely dormant” because they’re not getting the message that they should perform.
Questions to be explored next include efficacy and safety. SCUBE3 is a naturally occurring molecule, Plikus said, but how much can be delivered without seeing side effects? How much is too much?
Plikus’ lab studies how complex tissues and organs regenerate under normal conditions and in response to injury or disease. It aims to understand the nature of stem cell regulatory networks and regenerative behavior in response to organ injury.
“Our ongoing work shows that the regenerative abilities of adult mammalian skin are far greater than previously thought,” the Plikus lab’s web site says. “In the center of large skin wounds cells can acquire an embryonic-like state and develop new, fully functioning hair follicles…. Collectively, regenerative events can be so efficient that several months after wounding, scar tissue can hardly be distinguished from the normal skin.”
Further research will be conducted in the Plikus lab and at Amplifica Holdings Group Inc., a biotechnology company co-founded by Plikus. The study team included health professionals and academics from UCI, San Diego, China, Japan, Korea and Taiwan.
The work was supported by grants from the LEO Foundation, Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, W.M. Keck Foundation, National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health, Simons Foundation, National Natural Science Foundation of China and Taiwan’s Ministry of Science and Technology.
And, in case you’re wondering: Plikus and Liu have thick, healthy heads of hair!
Source: Orange County Register