Hair Follicles Could Indicate Deadly Skin Cancers, Study Finds

Looking at hair follicles may soon help doctors spot potentially deadly skin cancer. Researchers found that the disease can start its development in stem cells that provide color to hair rather than in skin layers.

The new study, published in the journal Nature Communications, shows that melanomas occur on the surface of the skin when damaged stem cells move up and out of the hair follicles. Researchers analyzed skin cancer development in genetically engineered mice and human tissue samples.

The team edited the genes in follicular melanocyte stem cells to add a glowing effect anywhere they traveled. The technique allowed the researchers to track cancer cells and observe how cancer forms and migrates deep in the skin, MedicalXpress reported Monday.

The researchers found that melanocyte stem cells abnormally migrate up and out of hair follicles to enter the epidermis or the outermost layer of skin. The moving cells then lead to the formation of melanoma on the skin. 

The cancer cell also appeared traveling deeper into the skin layer called the dermis, which further spreads the disease. Researchers said the involvement of stem cells makes it difficult to provide treatments for skin cancer. 

Stem cells can shift from one cell type to another. Melanomas use these cells to multiply across the body. 

"By confirming that oncogenic pigment cells in hair follicles are a bona fide source of melanoma, we have a better understanding of this cancer's biology and new ideas about how to counter it," Mayumi Ito Suzuki, study author and an associate professor at NYU School of Medicine and Perlmutter Cancer Center, said. 

The study may guide development of treatments for skin cancer since it provides information on how to accurately track cancer cells on the skin. During tests, the researchers were also able to temporarily eliminate signals of cancer one by one in hair follicles. 

"Our mouse model is the first to demonstrate that follicular oncogenic melanocyte stem cells can establish melanomas, which promises to make it useful in identifying new diagnostics and treatments for melanoma," Qi Sun, first study author and a postdoctoral fellow in Ito's lab, said. "While our findings will require confirmation in further human testing, they argue that melanoma can arise in pigment stem cells originating both in follicles and in skin layers, such that some melanomas have multiple stem cells of origin."

Hair loss Chemotherapy is known for its side effect that causes alopecia or hair loss in patients, which can be permanent and affect an individual’s quality of life. Pixabay