In what is being hailed by the press as a potentially revolutionary hair growth discovery, scientists in America have shown how 'natural-looking hair' can be grown from stem cells.
Research into how regenerative medicine could be used to address hair loss has been on-going for quite some time, with a team from Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute in California having made this latest breakthrough.
A company named Stemson Therapeutics has exclusively licensed their technology which received a Merit Award following its presentation at the 2019 annual meeting of the International Society for Stem Cell Research.
In January 2015 Stanford Burnham researchers successfully induced hair growth in mice; this was done by the use of human pluripotent stem cells (hPSCs) derived from human embryos or foetal tissue. These are capable of transforming into any other type of cell in the body, including dermal papilla.
Dermal papilla cells are found inside hair follicles and regulate not just hair growth but also aspects such as how thick the hair is.
The latest trial involved refining the protocol used in this initial research. Continues below...
As Alexey Terskikh, Ph.D. - associate professor in Sanford Burnham Prebys' Development, Ageing and Regeneration Program and co-founder of Stemson Therapeutics - advises, "Our new protocol described today overcomes key technological challenges that kept our discovery from real-world use. Now we have a robust, highly controlled method for generating natural-looking hair that grows through the skin using an unlimited source of human iPSC-derived dermal papilla cells."
The process tested in mouse trials involves the use of 'scaffolding', made from the same material as dissolvable stitches, to ensure the stem cells take properly and the resulting hair growth is in the correct direction.
Although stem cells from mice are used alongside human dermal papilla cells in the procedure at present, Terskikh and his team are working to develop epithelial cells from human iPSCs, in order to then be able to generate entirely human hair follicles.
Patients undergoing the procedure would then, essentially simply have their blood taken, this innovative technology would then be used to grow an "unlimited supply" of hair follicles from the stem cells found in their blood, and these fully functional follicles would be inserted into the scalp via a hair transplant operation.
One of the key benefits some of the newer hair loss solutions being developed - including this one - offer is that they do not require donor hair to be effective.
With certain hairloss conditions - including some forms of Scarring Alopecia and extensive baldness on top caused by advanced Male Pattern Hair Loss - the follicles are rendered defunct and surgical intervention may be the only remaining option. However, a lack of sufficient good quality donor hair may be an issue, meaning a hair transplant is not possible for the entire area and/or may not produce the desired results.
Techniques which mean you no longer need to have donor hair available in order to have your own hair transplanted into the bald or balding areas can be particularly worthwhile in these instances.
It potentially provides options to people with bald areas who currently have no viable treatments open to them as, although conditions such as Male Pattern Hair Loss can often be successfully treated through use of a personalised hair loss treatment course, this can only work where there are functioning hair follicles available, which is not the situation in cases of actual baldness.
The Sanford-Burnham research is still on-going, as are a number of other hair regeneration programmes, so it is likely to be a few years yet until this technique becomes widely available, but all updates will be posted here on the Belgravia hair loss blog as they happen.
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