Advance in bulk hair-regrowth technology keeps follicles coming thicker and faster
Outside of expensive transplants and drugs with questionable effectiveness, a proper treatment has continued to elude the great number of scientists working in the realm of hair loss. But sources of optimism are never far away, the latest coming out of Japan's Yokohama National University where scientists have developed an improved technique they claim brings higher rates of follicle growth and could be scaled up to cover larger, vaster expanses more efficiently.
Like a number of other breakthroughs in this area, the new technique uses stem cells as a starting point, which are early-stage cells that can differentiate into any type of cell in the human body with the right guidance. The technology centers on what are known as hair follicle germs (HFGs), three-dimensional tissue cultures of which stem cells form an important component. These HFGs can be implanted to serve as small organs that grow and maintain hair, with previous studies showing success when used on the skin of mice.
Early last year, the same group of researchers made a significant breakthrough. Through experimenting with new materials for their culture vessel, the scientists came up with a way to mass produce HFGs, so much so that they were able to grow up to 5,000 at the same time, the largest scale to date and a marked improvement on the 50 or so scientists had been able to produce up until that point.
Now they are looking to take things further by increasing the rate of hairs that spawn from their HFGs. The improved results come from further experimentation with the materials, this time around encapsulating hair follicle stem cells in collagen. This was mixed with mouse epithelial cells inside u-shaped wells, and after 24 hours the epithelial cells clumped together, clung to the collagen gel and then contracted to form what the team calls bead-based hair follicle germs (bbHFGs).
The scientists implanted these new bbHFGs onto the backs of mice, along with HFGs produced through other methods, including the one reported by the team last year. And the new recipe appeared to do the trick, with the collagen-infused bbHFGs bringing about higher rates of hair generation four weeks after implantation. This method also led to higher expression of hair-producing gene markers than was observed through the other techniques.
Eyeing a future where the production of the bbHFGs could be automated and therefore more easily scaled up for clinical use, the team enlisted a bit of machinery to do the job, with some promising early results.
"Using an automated spotter, this approach was scalable to prepare a large number of hair follicle germs, which is important for human treatment because thousands of tissue grafts are necessary for a single patient," says Profesoor Junji Fukuda from Yokohama National University.
All of this is a long way from entering clinical use, but it is another promising step in that direction. From here, the researchers will continue to investigate ways of scaling up their approach, including through the use of hair follicle stem cells derived from real patients suffering from hair loss.
The research was published in the journal Biomaterials.
Source: Yokohoma National University via EurekAlert