A single chemical is key to controlling when hair follicle cells divide, and when they die. This discovery could not only treat baldness, but ultimately speed wound healing because follicles are a source of stem cells.
Most cells in the human body have a specific form and function determined during embryonic development that does not change. For example, a blood cell cannot turn into a nerve cell, or vice versa. Stem cells, however, are like the blank tiles in a game of Scrabble; they can turn into other types of cells.
Their adaptability makes them useful for repairing damaged tissue or organs.
“In science fiction when characters heal quickly from injuries, the idea is that stem cells allowed it,” said UC Riverside mathematical biologist and study co-author Qixuan Wang.
“In real life, our new research gets us closer to understanding stem cell behavior, so that we can control it and promote wound healing,” Wang said. This research is detailed in a recent Biophysical Journal article.
The liver and stomach regenerate themselves in response to wounds. However, Wang’s team studied hair follicles because they’re the only organ in humans that regenerates automatically and periodically, even without injury.
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