June 17, 2011— -- Gray hair is, along with premature balding, one of the greatest fears of image-conscious men and women everywhere, but it may soon be a thing of the past. Scientists at the Ito Lab at New York University's Langone Medical Center have identified the proteins that cause gray hair, which could lead to an eventual cure.
Scientists have known for years that hair color is determined by the stem cells that guide the development of hair follicles working together with color-producing stem cells called melanocytes. Today, NYU researchers announced they had isolated the wnt protein, which serves to coordinate pigmentation between the two types of stem cells.
Already, scientists have managed to start with black mice and once they inhibited the Wnt pathway in their melanocyte stem cells, they eventually turned gray.
"Mouse and the human hairs are very similar in the way that they are structured and the way they contain melanocyte stem cells. We found that the wnt signaling pathway is activated the same way," said Piul Rabbani, a grad student in NYU's Langone Medical Center who led the study, told ABC News.
This breakthrough means that one day the wnt protein could be added to hair grooming products or supplements and help turn back the clock.
"Our hair follicles and the pigmentation from the melanocyte stem cells work in a very similar fashion, so it definitely can be applied at some point in the future," Rabbani told ABC News.
But not everyone cares about going gray, nor do they wish to reverse this inevitable sighn of aging.
In a nonscientific experiment conducted on "Good Morning America", Gail Cohen, a 61-year-old widow, whose hair began to go gray at the age of 25, posted two ads on an online dating site, one showing her with her naturally gray hair, and another showing her as a digitally enhanced brunette.
Seventy-five men responded to the ad showing her with gray hair, while 55 responded to the photo of her with brown hair.
Cohen said she was not surprised. "I knew I really had more confidence in myself with the white hair than I did with dark hair," she told ABC News. "I'm just used to being the way I am."