July 29, 2022 – While more than 80% of men and nearly half of women experience significant hair loss in their lifetime, there are two FDA-approved drugs for hair loss in men and one for the women.

But while millions of people around the world search for a way to slow or stop baldness, one chemical has stood out.

New search from the University of California, Riverside suggests that the cure for baldness lies in understanding one thing: transforming growth factor beta (TGF-β). The study, published in the Biophysical Journalidentifies TGF-β – one of many small proteins called cytokines that help control other immune system cells and blood cells – as a moderator of the hair follicle growth cycle, determining when hair follicle cells grow and when they die.

By studying hair follicles – a source of stem cells – the research is also delving into regenerative medicine and offering a model for accelerating wound healing.

“In science fiction, when characters quickly heal from wounds, the idea is that stem cells made it possible,” said UC Riverside mathematical biologist and study co-author Qixuan Wang, PhD, in a Press release. “In real life, our new research brings us closer to understanding stem cell behavior, so we can control it and promote wound healing.”

TGF-β to the rescue

The potency of TGF-β depends on its intensity, and the researchers describe the chemical’s mechanism as a “threshold-like switch”: too much of the chemical causes the cell to die, causing hair loss. At the same time, lower doses allow the cell to grow and divide.

Being able to precisely control TGF-β levels and understand how the chemical interacts with specific genes could allow future scientists to stimulate hair growth, according to researchers.

Your cells changing shape

Stem cells are like blank canvases – the body can program them to transform into other types of cells. Within hair follicles, stem cells play a unique role that has caught researchers’ attention: Hair follicles are the only organ in the human body that constantly regenerates itself, even without injury, researchers say.

“Even when a hair follicle kills itself, it never kills its reservoir of stem cells. When the surviving stem cells receive the signal to regenerate, they divide, make new cells and grow into a new follicle,” Wang said.

The plain truth is that by focusing on these unique regenerative cells, researchers hope to promote complete wound healing, which requires hair regeneration.

“Potentially our work could offer something to help people with various issues,” Wang said.