Hair loss, a prevalent issue that worsens with age, is akin to the increasing stiffness in our joints. Like joints, our hair follicle stem cells harden over time, impeding their ability to sprout hair. That’s the striking finding from a new study on baldness from Northwestern Medicine.

Remarkably, the researchers uncovered a way to soften these hair follicle stem cells, thus revitalizing their capacity to produce hair.

The solution revolves around a tiny RNA molecule known as miR-205. By enhancing the production of miR-205, they found that the stem cells’ rigidity diminished, boosting hair growth in the process.

In their groundbreaking study published this week in PNAS, the Northwestern team used genetically modified mice as their subjects. The process was simple but profound.

The researchers tweaked the stem cells genetically to overproduce miR-205. The result was an encouraging surge in hair growth among both young and old mice.

“The hair started to sprout in just 10 days,” said Professor Rui Yi. “We are not generating new stem cells here. Rather, we’re stimulating the existing ones to grow hair. Often, we have ample stem cells; they just may lack the capability to produce hair.”

This research underscores the potential of catalyzing hair growth by adjusting cell mechanics. “Due to the feasibility of delivering microRNA via nanoparticles directly into the skin, we’ll next test whether topically applied miR-205 can stimulate hair growth in mice. If that’s successful, we’ll plan experiments to explore whether this microRNA could potentially promote hair growth in humans,” said Professor Yi.

Conducting this study required the use of genetically engineered mouse models. The Northwestern team utilized advanced microscopy tools, such as atomic force microscopy, for measuring the stiffness, and two-photon microscopy for observing cell behaviors in live animals.
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