Hot on the heels of the announcement of a stem cell-based potential hair loss treatment, scientists have welcomed the news of another microscopic technique that could potentially cure baldness one day. Using a patient’s own cells, researchers believe they may be able to develop a new treatment for baldness that does not rely on medication or surgery.
The challenge of growing human hair
With the intention of collecting cellular material from the base of a patient’s hair, the research was conducted by a team of researchers from the UK and USA working together. Building on their previous experience of growing animal hair using a similar technique, the researchers found that the process was much more difficult when using human cells.
When using human dermal papillae (the cells found at the base of the hair follicle), the processes grew new skin rather than hair, which had been the result with animals. Dr. Jahoda who led the UK arm of the team from Durham University explained:
“Dermal papilla cells give rise to hair follicles, and the notion of cloning hair follicles using inductive dermal papilla cells has been around for 40 years or so. However, once the dermal papilla cells are put into conventional, two-dimensional tissue culture, they revert to basic skin cells and lose their ability to produce hair follicles.”
Instead the team had to develop a completely new technique that saw harvested human dermal papillae cells clumped into ‘3D spheroids’ which then retained their hair growth properties. The 3D spheroids were then grafted into the backs of rats to test whether the new technique works.
Each of the rats tested experienced new hair growth in the areas where the spheroids had been implanted. The growth lasted at least six weeks and when the hair DNA was tested was found to match that of the donor. The new hair was identical to that of the donor’s, despite being grown on a rat.
“Our method has the potential to actually grow new follicles using a patient’s own cells. This could greatly expand the utility of hair restoration surgery to women and to younger patients – now it is largely restricted to the treatment of male-pattern baldness in patients with stable disease,” said Dr. Cristiano who headed up the US arm of the research team.
Despite initial successes, the 3D spheroid grafting technique has not yet been tested on humans. As such it could be several years before the technique is widely available. Jonny Harris, Managing Director and hair loss expert at The Belgravia Centre says, “There have been numerous announcements over the past few years related to potentially revolutionary developments in the fight against baldness. As yet nothing has materialised but I am confident that in the next 10 years there could be a procedure or treatment introduced that is closer to a permanent cure than what is currently available. For now we have a number of extremely effective treatment available that will stabilise hair loss and increase hair density in most cases for both men and women”.
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