screenpunk/Flickr. (CC BY-NC 2.0)

There's no cure for baldness just quite yet. However, we could be edging towards that goal, as scientists have now pinpointed the cause of age-related (rather than male pattern) baldness, according to a new study published in the journal Science.

Scientists from the Tokyo Medical and Dental University looked at mice when they turned 18 months old – roughly when they start to lose their hair. They found that these mice had both fewer and smaller hair follicles, suggesting that their original follicles had altered somehow. They then repeated the study on humans aged between 55 and 70 and found similar results, regardless of sex.

Stem cells – "blank slate" cells that have to ability to change into virtually any other type of cell – are responsible for hair growth in the hair follicle.

They found that DNA damage, which accumulates with age, caused the destruction of a collagen protein called COL17A1, a critical molecule for hair follicle stem cell maintenance. As more stem cells suffer from this lack of COL17A1, the hair follicles begin to shrink and turn into epidermal keratinocytes – that’s the type of cell that makes up 90 percent of our outer layer of skin.

They concluded that maintaining COL17A1 levels could help ease this aging of hair follicles and lessen age-related hair loss. Although, perhaps more interestingly, they hope their findings about hair follicle stem cells could be used as a model to study aging in other organs.

In the study, the researchers said: “This paradigm could potentially open new avenues for the development of anti-aging strategies to prevent and treat aging-associated diseases.”

Main image credit: screenpunk/Flickr. (CC BY-NC 2.0)

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