Scientists at Wake Forest University have discovered that the hair protein Keratin has been shown to speed up the regeneration of nerves in mice. When nerve function is lost, the best option is to use a nerve graft from another part of the body, however this is an issue because it creates another wound site for the patient, which may not be tolerable due to ones condition. In an attempt to create another means of regenerating nerves, Dr. Mark Van Dyke and his team of researchers began to test the Keratin protein (which is found in hair follicles).
To test Keratin for its regenerative properties, Dr. Van Dyke used human hair collected from a barber shop and removed the Keratin from it. They then purified it and created a gel out of it to fill nerve guidance conduits. In order to study how effective the protein was, they studied the Schwann cells. Schwann cells are important in this experiment because they create signals that begin nerve cell regeneration. The results of this experiment showed their hypothesis to be correct, the use of Keratin greatly increased the activity of the Schwann cells. After this proved to be true, the scientists used a keratin-filled tube to try to repair a large nerve gap in mice (about 4 millimeters). The animals treated with Keratin were compared to animals treated with a nerve graft, and animals treated with a placebo. after 6 weeks, the entire keratin group showed visible regeneration, versus the placebo group who had about 50% show signs of regeneration. In addition, the speed of repair for the keratin group was much faster the other groups.
The results of all of his tests proved his hypothesis of the uses for keratin. “The results suggest that a conduit filler derived from hair keratins can promote an outcome comparable to a grafted nerve,” said Van Dyke.