Many men worry about going bald but, if you knew you were likely to lose your hair, how far would you go in the hope of preventing baldness
Would you, for instance, have strong, healthy hairs extracted now and cryogenically frozen until you decided to have the relevant cells injected back into the areas affected by Male Pattern Baldness
This may sound rather far-fetched and akin to science fiction but, thanks to an innovative new hair loss
solution being developed by start-up company HairClone, this could actually be science future.
The future of hair loss prevention?
Various organisations have already published findings from their hair follicle cloning research, an area that has been pushing medical boundaries over the past 40 years.
These include the Canadian company, RepliCel
which is developing stem cell replication techniques to treat Male and Female Pattern Hair Loss
, and the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California. There, a team has created a technique which allows them to grow functioning hair follicles directly from skin stem cells, in a lab, ready to be implanted into patients. This could potentially provide a method of treating not only genetic hair loss, but also currently untreatable hairloss conditons, such as those caused by scarring.
Taking its lead from such ground-breaking innovations, HairClone has assembled a team of scientists and clinicians - including top surgeon Dr Bessam Farjo -
dedicated to increasing the efficacy of hair cloning methods, with a view to bringing them into general practice.
The British business is refining an interesting proposition whereby men concerned about going bald could take preventative steps via a straightforward 30 minute procedure.
This entails having around 50 follicular units harvested under local anaesthetic using a small punch device. This part of the process is the same as current hair transplant
methods, and the extraction is performed using Follicular Unit Extraction - recently renamed Follicular Unit Excision
- more commonly referred to in both instances as FUE
Traditional hair restoration surgery would then involve grafting each donor hair follicle straight back into the patient's scalp, wherever needed - to fill in a receding hairline
or thinning crown, for example.
Where HairClone differs is in that, once hair units have been extracted, the patient is free to go home straight away. This is because the donor hair follicles are taken years in advance of hair loss occurring - or at least it becoming sufficiently problematic as to warrant immediate action. They are then cryogenically preserved until the patient needs them so that, by the time signs of hair loss
become evident, they have already ensured follicles of a suitable quality are available to address the issue.
Cryogenic hair follicle bank
This type of follicle banking could provide a unique service to people concerned about losing their hair. The business's aim is for HairClone clients to store 'a small number' of follicles in the cryogenic facility, which will then keep them at a temperature f -197C until needed.
The hair follicles can be cryopreserved for 'many years', according to the company's website
, which explains the process when the patient decides to use them, as follows:
'...some of the follicular units would be taken from the bank and processed to isolate the specific cells involved in the production of the hair shaft itself. These cells would be grown in culture in MHRA licensed laboratories and they would divide and multiply rapidly over 2-3 weeks. These expanded cells would then be transported back to the clinic and micro-injected into the patient’s scalp where needed where they would be expected to rejuvenate the thinning vellus hairs causing them to produce thicker terminal hair shafts and regain a more youthful appearance. In a later version of the product injected cells would be able to create brand new hair follicles by a process called follicle neogenesis
The 'specific cells' isolated via donor follicle micro-dissection are - or at least include, HairClone does not specify - Dermal Papilla (DP) cells. These are found at the base of hair follicles
and determine how thick hairs will be. Hairs are then produced by the dermal sheath cells. As researchers from the University of Durham explain in the Lancet, 'The dermal sheath that surrounds the outside of the hair follicle contains progenitor cells that maintain and regenerate the dermal papilla, a key component for hair growth.'
Scientists at the University of Calgary
discovered follicles in bald skin contain dysfunctional DP cells, and dermal sheath cells may have the ability to self-renew. This indicates a role not just in hair thickness, but also in the hair growth cycle
HairClone's service is still in development and has established three key areas which require further exploration before it could potentially become a mainstream hair loss treatment offering within the next three years. These are: finding how best to measure 'hair follicle inductivity' (the potential levels of efficacy) and to expand cells once in culture in order to maintain these levels, as well as determining precisely how the cells 'rejuvenate and regenerate' hair follicles once re-implanted into the scalp.
Hair loss solutions
There are already two well-established, clinically-proven male pattern hair loss treatment
drugs which are both MHRA-licensed and FDA approved - one topical solution and one oral tablet. Clients at Belgravia
are offered custom treatment solutions, tailored to their precise pattern and level of shedding, and tend to feature appropriate formulas of key medications alongside supporting products and therapies
designed to encourage healthy hair growth.
Though these are widely-used to stabilise hair fall, help regrow hair and prevent baldness, this new approach could come in handy as a potential backup for well-organised, forward-thinkers.
For instance, in some cases a man may not decide he wants to do something about his receding until it has reached an advanced point where the follicles are no longer capable of responding to pharmaceutical treatments. In this case he may decide to explore hair transplant surgery. However, as HairClone advise, 'There is an increasing amount of scientific evidence that would indicate that hair cells and hair transplant quality decreases with age. Therefore, harvesting and banking hair cells at an early age will be expected to preserve high cell potency for future uses'.
Clinical testing and follicle banking has already started but estimates as to when the procedure may be ready to obtain necessary approvals from medical regulatory boards in order, vary. Given that Male Pattern Baldness is a permanent condition which causes on-going follicular miniaturisation in the affected areas from the hairline to the crown, those with thinning hair
now may find it's not feasible to wait at least another three years.
Whilst HairClone is certainly an exciting proposition, anyone concerned about going bald now should start to explore their options as early as possible.