Scientists claim that they’ve unwittingly stumbled upon a cure for baldness, with them discovering that faults in a certain immune cell can trigger hair loss and cause conditions such as alopecia and male pattern baldness.
Researchers from University of California San Francisco have discovered that T cells, also known as Tregs, appear to have a relationship with hair loss. The discovery was made after temporarily removing the Tregs from mice, with the rodents then being shaved in order to monitor the progress. The study found that the hair didn’t grow back, suggesting that there was a direct correlation between the T cells and the hair loss.
Michael Rosenblum, an assistant professor of dermatology at UCSF who was the senior author of the paper outlining the research, said: “This has been thought to be an entirely stem cell-dependent process, but it turns out Tregs are essential. If you knock out this one immune cell type, hair just doesn’t grow.”
Further imaging techniques revealed that the Tregs are linked to the stem cells in the hair follicles, which work to regenerate hair. When the follicles are regenerating the number of Tregs triples, and it seems that hair loss is caused by faults in the Tregs that prevent then from helping the follicle to regrow. The researchers believe that this greatly contributes to hair loss.
“It’s as if the skin stem cells and Tregs have co-evolved, so that the Tregs not only guard the stem cells against inflammation but also take part in their regenerative work,” Rosenblum said. “Now the stem cells rely on the Tregs completely to know when it’s time to start regenerating.”
Rosenblum’s team also learned that almost all of the genes associated with alopecia are connected to Tregs, leading them to believe that they may be on track to finding a cure for the condition. It will also help researchers work on cures for other forms of hair loss, if they can learn of a way to make stem cells and the faulty immune cells work together.
For men in particular this is welcome news, with two-thirds of men experiencing some degree of hair loss by the age of 35. Male pattern baldness accounts for 95 per cent of this loss, and current methods to combat the issue aren’t universally effective. Current treatments such as minoxidil have been scientifically proven to help combat hair loss, though the success rate varies and many find that it does not help them. On the other hand, the hair loss pill finasteride is anecdotally more effective, though hasn’t received a robust clinical trial and comes with its own bunch of unfortunate side effects. Hair transplants are another fix, though they are expensive and not a permanent solution.