There are quite a few ways in which humans may one day be able to regrow hair, and an avenue that keeps promising to deliver is through induced pluripotent stem cells, or iPSCs. Scientists have again uncovered new possibilities in this area, managing to use the versatile cells to generate hair that looks and acts like the real thing.

The research was carried out at the Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute, and builds on earlier work by one of its scientists published in 2015. In that study, Alexey Terskikh, an associate professor in the Development, Aging and Regeneration Program, managed to grow hair underneath the skin of mice, a promising breakthrough but with obvious limitations.

That technique centered on what are known as dermal papilla cells, which have actually been the focus of a lot of hair regrowth research. These cells, which live within the hair follicles and control how fast, thick and long hair grows, are seen as an equally important part of the hair regrowth puzzle as epithelial stem cells. These are stem cells typically found at the bulge of hair follicles but are diminished in people experiencing hair loss.

Terskikh and his team combined the two types of cells within a 3D biodegradable scaffold made from the materials used for dissolvable stitches and implanted it into hairless mice. This scaffold helps the cells integrate with the tough skin and guides the direction of the hair growth so that it actually grows through the skin, rather than worm around underneath it as before.

For the experiment, the team used mouse epithelial cells, but are currently working to derive them from human iPSCs instead. Sourcing them in this way could allow a limitless supply, the team says, as iPSCs can be derived from simple blood samples. The researchers are pursuing the commercialization of the technology through a newly formed company, Stemson Therapeutics.

"Our new protocol described today overcomes key technological challenges that kept our discovery from real-world use," says Terskikh. "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. This is a critical breakthrough in the development of cell-based hair-loss therapies and the regenerative medicine field."

The team is presenting its research at the annual meeting of the International Society for Stem Cell Research this week, and will publish its results in the journal Developmental Cell.

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