In the field of hair loss
treatments, few areas are more exciting than stem cell research. While it is not yet possible to walk into a UK clinic and ask a doctor to grow you a new set of hair-producing follicles, the likelihood of this being a possibility soon appear to be increasing by the day.
At least three separate organisations have identified the possibility of extracting cells from a healthy portion of someone’s scalp and, from these, creating literally millions of equally healthy new cells that can be implanted in the scalp where they are needed.
For people with the genetic conditions Male Pattern Baldness
and Female Pattern Hair Loss
, this work could be significant. However, for those with permanent bald patches due to the destruction of hair follicles caused by conditions which are currently untreatable, such as cicatricial alopecia
caused by scarring, or from chemical trauma
, it could be life-changing.
One of the leading authorities in this fast-developing field of medical technology is Dr Cheng-Ming Chuong
, professor of pathology at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California (USC), who was the subject of a lengthy CNBC.com article in October 2017.
The focus of the story was a study recently published by the USC’s Stem Cell Laboratory which detailed how Chuong and his colleagues were perfecting a way to grow hair follicles from skin cells reproduced in vitro - in a test tube or petri dish - in the laboratory.
The results of the study explain how the doctors transplanted stem cells into shaved mice and then watched how they behaved. What was remarkable was that the cells formed a kind of mini biological organ which was then able to grow hair. Next, in what sounds like something from a Mary Shelley novel, the cells combined themselves to form a layer of skin. This hair follicle-bearing skin was then transplanted onto the back of a host mouse where vigorous hair growth
Equally pioneering in this field are Canadian regenerative medicine company RepliCel Life Sciences
, whose work has been the subject of many news items over the past few years. A new article in Forbes sheds some light on exactly how their research into hair follicle replication is progressing. In the article, RepliCel CEO Lee Buckler explains how the starting point for their research dates back more than a decade when it was observed that some people are susceptible to androgen hormones
which attack the hair follicles. It was also observed that this destruction didn’t normally happen at the back of the head.
“We don’t know why, but we have universally established that the cells back there are immune to the attack,”
Possible future cure
It didn’t take a great leap of imagination to wonder if growing new cells that mimicked the properties of these androgen-immune cells and implanting them at the front of the head where genetic hairloss normally manifests itself could raise the question of a future cure.
Buckler tells Forbes: “We’ve discovered that you can grow tens of millions more of the cells in the lab and then inject them into the affected area of hair loss with the goal of repopulating the hair follicles there with new cells that can kick-start hair growth and are now immune to the condition.”
While still a technology that is in its relative infancy and one which may ultimately be hampered by regulatory considerations, there is little doubt that stem cell research as it pertains to possible new hair loss treatments is extremely exciting. Indeed, two years ago Belgravia
Managing Director Jonny Harris said
in a Daily Mail article that it was likely stem cell technology would be able to solve the issue of hair loss by 2020.
Today absolute baldness or bald patches, where the hair follicles have been destroyed or compromised to the point that they are no longer functioning, cannot be treated, whether it is from scarring alopecia, frontal fibrosing alopecia
, chemical trauma or even extremely advanced male pattern hair loss. Although bald spots and complete baldness also appear in cases of autoimmune alopecia
this is not a hair loss condition as such - alopecia areata and its more severe phenotypes are considered autoimmune disorders - so whether this approach could be of benefit there remains to be seen.
In cases of true baldness the skin takes on a shiny, smooth texture. This is different to genetic hair loss, which causes gradually thinning hair and often, particularly in men, a receding hairline
. In these cases, whilst the follicles are still functioning, both male and female pattern hair loss can be effectively treated with appropriate treatments from those clinically-proven solutions which are both MHRA-licensed and FDA-approved medications, finasteride 1mg and minoxidil.
Non-surgical hair loss treatment
programmes may vary depending on whether the patient is a man or woman; whilst both men and women are able to use appropriate solutions of high strength minoxidil
, a topical vasodilator used to promote hair growth, which comes in a range of formulations, only men aged 18 and over who are deemed medically suitable may take the oral one-a-day tablet of finasteride 1mg
. This drug was developed to block the formation of an androgen named dihydrotestosterone (DHT
), as this is the hormone responsible for causing hair thinning and receding in people with genetic hair loss, and it can be used alone or in tandem with minoxidil.
The potential of stem cell technology's application for hair loss treatment is hugely exciting. However, male and female pattern hair loss are progressive, permanent conditions so anyone concerned about losing their hair or worried their hair is thinner than normal would be well advised to seek expert advice sooner rather than later.