Scientists Study Hair Follicles

By: Jack Penland
By: Jack Penland

Scientists created green-skinned glowing mice by accident. In the process they discovered a possible new source of stem cells, valued for their potential to change into many types of specialized cells that might be useful in treating many diseases.

Scientists at Anticancer Incorporated of San Diego wanted an image of brain stem cells. Other groups had genetically modified mice so that only areas containing a protein that's produced by brain stem cells would glow green.

When the entire mouse was examined for fluorescence and showed bright green, company president Robert Hoffman says, they found out the brain stem cell protein was also in hair follicles' stem cells.

"We knew at that point there was a relationship between the stem cells of the hair follicle and the stem cells of the brain," said Hoffman.

Having the protein is one thing, but does it mean hair follicle stem cells can actually turn into neurons, the nerve cells of the brain?

"We put them in culture and under conditions where brain stem cells would form neurons the hair follicle stem cells also formed neurons," Hoffman said.

Writing in "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences" they reported that they also put them into mice and they formed neurons. Hoffman says the next step is to better understand what's going on.

"We want to know how to coax these hair follicle stem cells to make the kind of cells we want them to," said Hoffman.

Hoffman adds that finding stem cells in an easy-to-reach spot like hair follicles means people might easily become their own source of the potential disease fighting cells.

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