Hair growth breakthrough offers hope to balding men and women
Researchers involved in a new study have discovered a breakthrough technique for growing human hair, offering hope to bald or balding men and women.
According to the researchers, they're moving close toward achieving the goal of the study, which is to clone hair cells and then replant them on the scalp in an effort to generate new hair growth.
"We've been able to overcome the first block," said study co-author Angela Christiano, a professor of dermatology and genetics & development at the Center for Human Genetics at Columbia University's College of Physicians & Surgeons in New York City.
Using seven donors, Christiano and her research team removed cells inside the base of human hair follicles and cloned the cells in tissue culture. A few days later, the researchers transplanted those cells to human skin that had been grafted onto the backs of mice.
As a result, the human skin on the mice grew new hair that lasted a minimum of six weeks in five out of the seven tests the research team performed. In addition, the new hair follicles genetically matched the human donors as confirmed by DNA analysis.
The research is currently in its early stages, and whether the technique will grow hair that's the same texture as it was previously remains unknown. What is known, however, is that an estimated 50 percent of people over the age of 50 suffer from hair loss, and there's a need for finding new ways to replace hair in those who need it that are better than any of the limited methods available today.
Such limited methods include drugs, which promote hair growth, but as Christiano warns, these drugs tend to focus on stimulating existing hair follicles to grow longer hairs, not necessarily replace lost hair. In male-pattern baldness, for example, men still have follicles that grow hair, but they just grow "peach fuzz" instead of normal hair.
Of course, other treatments for baldness and hair loss are available, including surgical procedures that graft hair into the scalp, but one expert says these options aren’t much better than drugs that promote hair growth.
"Surgical methods, mainly hair transplants, really just shuffle existing hair around from the back of scalp to front of scalp," explained Dr. Luis Garza, an assistant professor at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore. "The main challenge is to grow a new hair follicle." And that’s the goal of this new study, which offer a new approach that could also help women who are losing their hair as much as it can help balding men.
"About 90 percent of women with hair loss are not strong candidates for hair transplantation surgery because of insufficient donor hair," Christiano said. "This method offers the possibility of inducing large numbers of hair follicles or rejuvenating existing hair follicles, starting with cells grown from just a few hundred donor hairs. It could make hair transplantation available to individuals with a limited number of follicles, including those with female-pattern hair loss, scarring alopecia and hair loss due to burns."
What makes the technique used in the new study unique, as the researchers found, is that the cells retain their ability to figure out what to do when the researchers grow the cells upside down.
"We don't put genes into them, and they're not manipulated at all," Christiano said. She added that the hair cells created through this breakthrough technique resulted in new hair growth for five out of seven donor models of human skin, and that the technique shows promise for much more than just growing new hair.
Just some of the potential opportunities resulting from the research that Christiano mentioned is how it could ultimately lead to more functional replacement skin for people with scars and burns because the skin would have hair.
Garza praised the research, but emphasized that it is preliminary.