Category Archives: Stem Cells

COL17A1 Damage: Hair Thinning and Turning into Skin

Update: A blog reader from Brazil sent me something very interesting yesterday. Apparently, there was a study published less than two months ago that concluded that chronic inflammation was turning eye cells into skin cells! Read more here.

Today, the prestigious Science Magazine published two new studies related to hair loss and stem cells. They also had a brief summary on the link between aging, stem cells and alopecia, authored by Dr. Cheng-Ming Chuong from USC who I have mentioned on this blog before.

Update: Below news now also covered in many other sources, including Time, Wired, Guardian and (of course) the Daily Mail.

Collagen 17A1 and Shrinking Stem Cells

The first study from Japan is titled “Hair follicle aging is driven by transepidermal elimination of stem cells via COL17A1 proteolysis.” For non-scientists, the contents of that study are not very easy to understand without spending some time googling the various technical terms listed in there.

However, an easier to understand article analyzing the above study’s findings concludes that “One reason your hair is thinning is because some of it turns into skin.” The study also discusses shedding of epidermal keratinocytes from the skin surface. A lot of people complain about dandruff, itching and dermatitis throughout their scalp while they are slowly balding, and I have had those problems many times in the past decade.

Nizoral and sunshine have both helped me tackle those problems, but I can never seem to go for more than a few days without at least some itching and skin shedding. Note that a Japanese article on this study actually mentions the word “dandruff” in there when you translate to English.

The study authors found that hair follicles in women over age 55 were smaller and with lower levels of the protein Collagen 17A1 (see more on COL17A1 here). Age-related DNA damage triggers the destruction COL17A1. This in turn triggers the transformation into “epidermal keratinocytes”, aka skin.

It is good to see a study that is devoted to female hair loss sufferers. Moreover, one of the lead authors of the study is also a female by the name of Dr. Emi Nishimura. The researchers also engineered mice to lack the COL17A1 gene, and then found that these mice had no follicle-generating cells.

Foxc1 Activates Nfatc1 and BMP signaling

The second study is titled “Foxc1 reinforces quiescence in self-renewing hair follicle stem cells.”  Foxc1 (also known as Forkhead box C1) belongs to the Forkhead family of proteins and transcription factors.

Per these scientists from the University of Colorado, Foxc1 regulates the hair growth cycle, and perhaps manipulating this in future could prevent balding. There is also a strong link between Foxc1, Nfatc1 and bone morphogenetic protein (BMP) signaling.

World Stem Cell Summit 2014

World Stem Cell Summit
World Stem Cell Summit.

World Stem Cell Summit 2014

The World Stem Cell Summit (WSCS) is taking place from December 3-5 2014 in San Antonio, Texas. An absolutely superb lineup of over 200 speakers from across the world is presenting at the event.

Among the more renowned personalities speaking at the Summit include Anthony Atala, George Church and Aubrey de Grey. I always get excited about such conferences, and even attended the Singularity Summit in 2008 despite not being involved in medicine or technology in any significant way whatsoever.

Although issues related to serious medical problems justifiably garner the most attention at the Summit, hair loss and dermatology related problems also get some coverage. Replicel’s Lee Buckler is listed as a presenter.

Moreover, skin expert and researcher Elaine Fuchs gave a 1-hour lecture at an off-site event yesterday. She has conducted decades of research regarding human skin and related appendages, including hair follicles, sweat glands and sebaceous glands. A few other lesser known presenters will also offer insights into stem cells and dermatological problems such as hair loss.

A brief summary of the event after it ended summarized its focus as being to serve as the meeting point for researchers, clinicians, industry leaders, regulators, policy makers and ethicists. All these groups aim to advance stem cell innovation and new therapies in regenerative medicine.