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Stem cells: good for generating a new heart, kidneys... hair?

Scientists unexpectedly find a way to generate skin cells that grow their own hair.

This man's search for new skin cells could well be over.

STEM CELLS HAVE long been touted as something of a miracle, being manipulable into pretty much any organ a human might need for transplant – like a heart, lung, kidney, or – as Ciarán Finn-Lynch found out recently – even a windpipe.

But now researchers may have found, almost entirely by accident, what appears to be a medical breakthrough to perhaps trump all the above, in terms of the number of interested parties.

Scientists have discovered that stem cells can be used to treat… baldness.

Researchers tinkering with cells from a rat’s thymus – which forms part of the immune system, and is also present in humans – were experimenting with the effects of transplanting the cells into growing skin as a way of helping to generate new skin for burn victims.

The skin cells produced, completely beyond their expectations, included fully functioning hair follacles. The cells, it would appear, simply forgot they were from the thymus, and took the form of skin cells as if that was what they were all along.

The breakthrough is a massive leap: previously skin generated from stem cells only lived for a few weeks, while the newly-discovered formula can create cells that live for a year or longer – enough time for the body to begin producing more cells of its own.

Aside from debunking the traditional theory that cells of one sort could not become cells of another, the scientists also suspect that the thymus cells may now also be replicable for other organs too, producing a far faster way of generating new organs and tissues.

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Gavan Reilly

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