Accidental Hair Loss Discovery Could Lead to New Treatments

Researchers at University of California San Francisco have made a breakthrough discovery in hair loss and hair growth. The best part? It was a happy accident.

Professor Michael Rosenblum, an immunologist and dermatologist at University of California San Francisco, was one of the lead researchers working when the discovery was made. Rosenblum and his team were investigating the role of anti-inflammatory T-cells, also known as Tregs, in skin health. In order to study this role, Tregs were temporarily removed from mice, which were then shaved to allow for better observation.

But when the mice’s hair failed to grow back, researchers knew they had discovered something unexpected. Rather than being linked to stem cells alone, hair growth after hair loss only occurs if Tregs are present.

“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 told The Independent. “The stem cells rely on the Tregs completely to know when it’s time to start regenerating.”

Since making this discovery, the researchers have looked extensively into whether defects in Tregs could be responsible for alopecia areata, which is one of the most common causes of hair loss. Considering that half of a man’s hair will be gone before it becomes cosmetically visible, this discovery could help millions suffering from hair loss.

When Tregs malfunction ordinarily, food allergies and autoimmune issues can be the result. But the knowledge that they’re also directly tied to hair growth could lead to even more discoveries about the nature of hair loss and potential treatments for it.

“We think of immune cells as coming into a tissue to fight infection, while stem cells are there to regenerate the tissue after it’s damaged,” Rosenblum said. “But what we found here is that stem cells and immune cells have to work together to make regeneration possible.”