US scientists believe they may have uncovered why hair turns grey as we age!
The team from New York University (NYU) studied the process in mice, which have identical cells in their fur as humans do in hair.
So, why do we go grey, then? Scientists believe that stem cells become “stuck” in limbo in people whose hair has turned grey.
The stem cells stop bouncing around the follicle and become fixed, thereby failing to mature into fully-fledged ‘melanocytes.’ A melanocyte is a type of cell found in the skin that produces a pigment called melanin. Melanin gives colour to our hair, skin, and eyes.
As a person goes grey, stem cells in hair follicles fail to mature into melanocytes. With no pigment being produced by ‘stuck’ melanocytes, the hair turns grey, white or silver.
What messes with melanocytes?
In an article published on NPR, Dr. Jenna Lester, a dermatologist and professor at the University of California, San Francisco, said on the Short Wave podcast that there’s a slew of factors, beyond nature ageing, that play a role in the greying process.
“Some people think sun exposure can damage their melanocytes more or less… And hormones also play into it as well. Then there’s stress, genetics and certain medical conditions, which can all strip hair of its richer hues.”
Big strides in hair stands
The NYU Langone Health team’s newfound mechanisms may raise the possibility of curing cancer. Mayumi Ito, a professor at NYU Langone Health and a senior investigator on the study told NPR:
“We are interested in how stem cells residing in our body are regulated to properly maintain our body and how they can reform the tissues when they are lost by injuries,”
“When the stem cell regulation goes awry, we will have multiple health problems including cancers,”
“The melanocyte stem cell system is advantageous to understand this broad issue in medical science, as the malfunction of the system is so visible.”
Not only will this new data help researchers make strides in finding ways to reverse or prevent the greying process, these studies may open the door to finding new ways to treat certain cancers and medical conditions like alopecia areata, vitiligo, and the deadly skin cancer, melanoma.
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