The area of hair follicle regeneration, or replication, whereby new hair follicles can be artificially created or multiplied for use in hair transplants, has been getting a lot of media attention recently.
Since the initial December 2018 trial data was released – showing they could replicate dermal papilla cells found in hair follicles to produce new hairs – her team’s work has concentrated on advancing this technique.
They are currently preparing for human studies and a 26th June 2019 article in The Engineer advised that this now involves an innovative use of 3D printing.
Ensuring correct hair growth
Angela Christiano and her UK collaborator, Dr. Colin Jahoda of Durham University, found they could grow hair from dermal papilla cells outside the body, ready to be transferred into areas of a person’s scalp via hair transplant surgery.
The 2018 study showed they had successfully used this technique to transfer lab-grown hair follicles to mice, which then grew as normal. On announcing this in a paper published in the Nature journal, accompanying interviews revealed human trials were the next step and they hoped to begin these by 2021.
In the interim period the team has been investigating optimal methods for cultivating these dermal papilla cells to produce functional hair follicles, capable of normal hair growth, externally. It is here they have taken to involving 3D printing.
The Engineer quotes Christiano as saying “Cells from rats and mice grow beautiful hairs, but for reasons we don’t totally understand, human cells are resistant.”
After inconsistent results when producing these new hair follicles in the lab, the team turned to 3D printing vehicles around half a millimetre wide which better recreated the long, thin scalp environment hair follicles usually grow in to ensure correct hair growth.
This has provided the best microenvironment for the researchers’ needs, with Angela Christiano saying of their work, “What we’ve shown is that we can basically create a hair farm: a grid of hairs that are patterned correctly and engineered so they can be transplanted back into that same patient’s scalp.”
Advancing hair loss treatment and research
This work has the potential to help many men and women with thinning hair or a receding hairline caused by genetic hair loss, who do not want to – or for reasons of medical unsuitability, cannot – use the already MHRA-licensed and FDA-approved hair loss treatments.
Commenting on the doors this type of innovation could open, Christiano advises it “…expands the availability of hair restoration to all patients – including the 30 million women in the United States who experience hair thinning and young men whose hairlines are still receding. Hair restoration surgery would no longer be limited by the number of donor hairs.”
Lack of sufficient amounts of good quality donor hair in patients wishing to have hair transplant surgery is something Belgravia has reported on many times and, due to the increasing popularity of medical tourism and corresponding rise in over-harvesting, is becoming even more of an issue than ever.
When someone decides to undergo surgical hair restoration to fill in areas of hairloss caused by Male Pattern Baldness, the procedure effectively involves moving healthy hair follicles from one area of the scalp to another.
Hair follicles are taken from either the sides or back of the scalp, or both if there is a large area to be covered, as it is only those located along the vertex – the top of the scalp from hairline to crown – which are affected by the hormone dihydrotestosterone (DHT) in people with a genetic predisposition to hereditary hair loss.
These are known as ‘donor hairs’ and they remain immune to the follicular miniaturisation caused by DHT once they are relocated to the affected areas to help fill out the pockets of thinning.
When there is insufficient donor hair or where it is of poor quality, it may not be possible to carry out a hair transplant as the results could be disappointing.
This is why techniques that negate the need for donor hair could provide a reliable option for those without decent donor hair supplies, as long as it was used responsibly.
For example, given this type of technique – and those also being developed by the likes of Stemson Therapeutics – effectively allows access to an unlimited amount of hair follicles, those wanting to add in extra new hairs even where there is minimal or no hair loss, just to have a full, luxuriant mane, is technically a possibility.
Another potential application for these lab-grown hairs in their 3D printed environments, is to use them to test future hair loss products on. Currently only animal and human trials are possible so this could provide an unique opportunity in the clinical trial process.
The Belgravia Centre is an organisation specialising in hair growth and hair loss prevention with two clinics and in-house pharmacies in Central London, UK. If you are worried about hair loss you can arrange a free consultation with a hair loss expert or complete our Online Consultation Form from anywhere in the world. View our Hair Loss Success Stories, which includes the world’s largest gallery of hair growth comparison photos and demonstrates the levels of success that so many of Belgravia’s patients achieve. You can also phone 020 7730 6666 any time to arrange a free consultation.