According to a release, scientists at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center were actually looking into how certain cancer tumors form when they discovered a protein called KROX20, which is generally associated with nerve development. In the case of hair growth, though, KROX20 essentially turns on in skin cells, eventually creating a hair shaft.
“These hair shaft cells, otherwise known as progenitors, are basically prehairs that are formed before actually sprouting,” lead researcher Dr. Lu Le told Yahoo. The cells then produce a different protein called stem cell factor (SCF), which provides pigmentation for hair color.
Scientists explored combinations of genes in the hair progenitor cells in mice, deleting the SCF gene that turned their hair white. And, when they deleted the KROX20-producing cells, no hair grew and the mice became bald.
While the general science behind hair growth and pigmentation was already known, the specifics of how the cells move, which ones make SCF, and the involvement of the KROX20 protein are all new revelations. In other words, according to Dr. Le, associate professor of dermatology with the Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center, his team “ended up learning why hair turns gray and discovering the identity of the cell that directly gives rise to hair.”
So how does a discovery like this affect the products you use? Well, Dr. Le hopes to use the knowledge “to create a topical compound or to safely deliver the necessary gene to hair follicles to correct these cosmetic problems.”
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