Going Bald? The Fault May Lie in Your Cells

Report by ABC News Medical Unit’s Carrie Gann:

A hat may no longer be the only answer for baldness.  Researchers at Yale University have found new clues to the causes of hair loss in the fatty skin cells of mice.

Studying cells from the fatty layer, the researchers found that signals from these fat cells were needed to stimulate the stem cells at the base of hair follicles, which are dormant in baldness. These cells could help scientists identify how to treat hair loss in humans.

“The fat cells are important for hair growth.  If they’re not there, the hair won’t grow,” said Valerie Horsley, the lead author of the study.

Horsley said her team will now work on identifying the cells in humans that do the same thing.

“We don’t know for sure if it’s a cure for baldness,” she said. “But I’m hopeful that we can get human cells to do the same as the mice cells.”

Dr. Robert Bernstein, clinical professor of dermatology at Columbia University, said the findings were an interesting development in understanding why millions of people go bald.

“It’s an important step.  Mice models are not necessarily applicable to humans, but this is how we start to make discoveries,” he said.

Bernstein noted that the study’s findings don’t address genetic hair loss, in which a hormone called DHT causes hair follicles to shrink.

Horsley said the fat cells she studied are not only linked to baldness. They also could help scientists understand how wounds heal or how skin tumors grow.

“We’re trying to find out more about these fat cells. We’re trying to understand who they’re talking to in the skin,” Horsley said.  ”It’s very exciting because we really knew nothing about the fat in the skin. I’m hoping we can extend the research.”