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What's new in March 2021

How chronic stress leads to hair loss

Mouse hair follicle.
HSCI Principal Faculty member Ya-Chieh Hsu has identified the biological mechanism of how chronic stress leads to hair loss, confirming long-standing observations that the two are connected.
  • What they did: The researchers used a mouse model of chronic stress to study hair follicle stem cells, which regenerate the hair follicle and hair.
  • What they found: The stress hormone corticosterone causes hair follicle stem cells to stay in an extended resting phase without regenerating tissue. The stress signal is first received by dermal cells surrounding the hair follicle, preventing them from releasing Gas6, a molecule that activates stem cells. When researchers added back Gas6, stem cells could regenerate hair even under stress. 
  • Why it matters: The Gas6 pathway is a potential target for promoting hair growth. More broadly, researchers now have a better understanding of how stress plays a role in stem cell biology and cross-organ signaling.

Engineered stem cells target breast cancer that metastasizes to the brain

Cancer and stem cells in the mouse brain.
HSCI researchers led by Principal Faculty member Khalid Shah have engineered stem cells to target breast cancer that has metastasized to the brain.
  • What they did: The researchers analyzed patient samples of breast cancer that metastasized to the brain, identifying two types of receptors that are important for tumor growth. The researchers engineered stem cells with a molecule that targets both receptor types.
  • What they found: In three different mouse models of brain metastasis, the engineered stem cells successfully crossed the blood-brain barrier and improved survival rates.
  • Why it matters: The stem cell therapy is a promising approach for treating cancer across the blood-brain barrier, which is challenging using most therapeutics.
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