Could There Soon Be ‘Cure’ for Gray Hair?

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Tired of coloring your hair every four weeks to cover those annoying gray roots? Well, there may soon be a drug to “cure” that aging “ailment.”

Research published online today in the journal Cell Reports states that investigators have discovered a pair of pathways that control skin and hair color in mice. And additional experiments can lead to new drugs that will treat skin pigmentation disorders (such as vitiligo, which gives skin a blotchy, white appearance), as well as repigment gray hair cells.

Senior study author Mayumi Ito, PhD, associate professor in the Ronald O. Perelman Department of Dermatology at NYU Langone Medical Center, tells Yahoo Beauty that the process behind “going white” has been somewhat of a mystery—until now.

“A study in 2005 showed that the melanocyte stem cells—cells that are responsible for hair pigmentation— are depleted during the aging process, which leads to gray hair,” she explains. “But the underlying mechanism was unclear.”

However, Dr. Ito and her colleagues uncovered that these skin and early-stage hair cells are controlled by cell-to-cell signaling reactions—reactions that are part of the endothelin receptor type B (EdnrB) and the Wnt pathways.

“It was very interesting because we were using black mice with black pigmented hair, but in the absence of this pathway—the EdnrB— we saw those mice getting gray hair, just like older people,” states Dr. Ito. “Without this pathway, those stem cells were eventually gone.”

She says the next step involves focusing on the aging process of humans, specifically “looking at the hair follicles that are graying and how the expressions are different in these follicles.” Dr. Ito and her fellow scientists also plan on studying other pathways and whether they play a role in controlling hair pigmentation cells.

“In general, understanding how stem cells regulate is necessary to develop a strategy to ‘cure’ gray hair or other pigmentation disorders,” she adds.

Until then, call your salon and make an appointment for a touch-up, or embrace your grays.

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