Standford: A protein called TERT, is a key component of telomerase, an enzyme that adds DNA to the tips of chromosomes and helps cells proliferate, could open up new treatments for ageing including baldness.TERT is activated in 90% of human cancers.
The new study showed that in skin, it can activate dormant hair follicle stem cells, resulting in “shaggy” mice. This process was distinct from its previously known role of adding caps, called telomeres, to the ends of chromosomes.
Manipulating TERT could open up new avenues for developing therapies, suggest the researchers, led by Dr Steven Artandi, from Stanford University in California.
In the journal Nature he said that the discoveries suggested there may be new strategies for manipulating TERT for treating disorders connected with tissue injury and ageing.
The fact that TERT promoted rapid hair growth in mice also raises the prospect of baldness cures.
However, whether or not the telomerase protein can ever be used to restore hair to bald heads is far from certain.
In an accompanying commentary, Dr Elizabeth Blackburn, from the University of California at San Francisco, wrote: “In ancient Egypt, men smeared their pates with hippopotamus fat in a desperate bid to stave off baldness.
“Is telomerase the new hippopotamus fat? Probably not. But this enzyme is already known to be vital in sustaining tissues in health and disease, and we should look beyond its eponymous function to understand the full spectrum of its potential roles.”