A cream or ointment may soon cure baldness or stop hair turning grey, according to a recently published study.
Scientists have identified the cells responsible for hair growth as well as the mechanism that causes them to turn grey, a finding that could lead to new treatments for balding and greying hair.
The study conducted by UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas said the scientists made the discovery by accident while searching how certain cancer tumors form.
Researchers said they found that a protein called KROX 20, commonly associated with nerve development, turned on in skin cells that become the hair shaft.
The cells produce a protein called stem cell factor, which was essential for hair colour.
When scientists deleted the stem cell factor gene in the hair cells of mice, their fur turned white.
When scientists deleted the other protein KROX20, no hair grew and the mice became bald.
Dr Lu Le, of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Centre, says: “Although this project was started in an effort to understand how certain kinds of tumours form, we ended up learning why hair turns grey and discovering the identity of the cell that directly gives rise to hair.
“With this knowledge, we hope in the future to create a topical compound or to safely deliver the necessary gene to hair follicles to correct these cosmetic problems.”
Future research will try to find out if the KROX20 in cells and the SCF gene stop working properly as people age, leading to the greying and hair thinning seen in older people, as well as in male pattern baldness.
The research also could provide answers about why we age in general as hair greying and hair loss are among the first signs of ageing.
The study was published in the journal Genes & Development.