Scientists say it will soon be possible to reverse the greying of hair after discovering a gene responsible in mice.
The discovery, by doctors at the Dana-Farber Cancer Insitute in Boston, came as a result of research into skin cancer.
The colour of our hair comes from stem cells which live inside every hair folicle. As we age these begin to switch off and so our hair looses colour and eventually turns white.
The experiments in Boston used mice and discoverd that they had a faulty Bcl2 gene which turned them prematurely grey. It is thought that the research may lead to drug treatments targeted at correcting faulty versions of this gene – and thus halting or reversing hair greying.
Billions of dollars are spent each year by consumers purchasing hair products including dyes.
Dr David Fisher said his team believed skin cancer was ‘the flip-side of the going-grey coin’ because it occurs when melanocytes in the skin proliferate uncontrollably, rather than when they start to disappear.
Dr Fisher said he hoped that it would eventually be possible to use drugs to mimic the ageing process that causes grey hair in order to treat melanoma.
He said preventing grey hair was not his aim, but that his findings could help other scientists working in the field.