Health & Wellbeing

Stem cell-based treatment for baldness a step closer

Stem cell-based treatment for ...
A new technique for producing large amounts of hair-follicle-generating stem cells has implications for wound healing, cosmetics, and hair regeneration (Photo: Shutterstock)
A new technique for producing large amounts of hair-follicle-generating stem cells has implications for wound healing, cosmetics, and hair regeneration (Photo: Shutterstock)
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Hair shafts (arrowheads) formed by induced pluripotent stem cell-derived epithelial stem cells compared to mouse hair (arrows) (Photo: Ruifeng Yang, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania)
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Hair shafts (arrowheads) formed by induced pluripotent stem cell-derived epithelial stem cells compared to mouse hair (arrows) (Photo: Ruifeng Yang, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania)
A new technique for producing large amounts of hair-follicle-generating stem cells has implications for wound healing, cosmetics, and hair regeneration (Photo: Shutterstock)
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A new technique for producing large amounts of hair-follicle-generating stem cells has implications for wound healing, cosmetics, and hair regeneration (Photo: Shutterstock)

As one of the follically-challenged, any new breakthroughs in the area of hair regeneration will generally get my attention. When stem cells first started to gain widespread media attention I, no doubt like many others, thought a full head of hair was just around the corner. But despite numerous developments, years later my dome is still of the chrome variety. Providing the latest cause for cautious optimism, researchers have now developed a way to generate a large number number of hair-follicle-generating stem cells from adult cells.

In what they claim is a world first, researchers from the University of Pennsylvania (UPenn) and the New Jersey Institute of Technology have developed a technique to convert adult human stem cells into epithelial stem cells (EpSCs).

By adding three genes to human skin cells called dermal fibroblasts that live in the dermis layer of the skin and generate connective tissue, a team led by Xiaowei "George" Xu, MD, PhD, at the Perelman School of Medicine was able to convert them into induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs). The iPSCs, which have the ability to differentiate into any cell type, were then converted into epithelial stem cells (EpSCs) that are normally found at the bulge of hair follicles.

Through careful control of the timing of delivery of growth factors to the cells, the researchers say they were able to turn over 25 percent of the iPSCs into EpSCs in 18 days. When they then mixed these EpSCs with mouse follicular inductive dermal cells and grafted them onto the skin of immunodeficient mice, functional human epidermis and follicles similar to hair follicles were produced.

Hair shafts (arrowheads) formed by induced pluripotent stem cell-derived epithelial stem cells compared to mouse hair (arrows) (Photo: Ruifeng Yang, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania)
Hair shafts (arrowheads) formed by induced pluripotent stem cell-derived epithelial stem cells compared to mouse hair (arrows) (Photo: Ruifeng Yang, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania)

"This is the first time anyone has made scalable amounts of epithelial stem cells that are capable of generating the epithelial component of hair follicles," said Xu, who added that these cells have many potential applications, including wound healing, cosmetics, and hair regeneration.

But some hurdles still need to be jumped before I make my first trip to the hairdresser in a decade. Xu points out that when a person loses hair, they lose not only epithelial cells, but also a kind of adult stem cell called dermal papillae. "We have solved one major problem, the epithelial component of the hair follicle. We need to figure out a way to also make new dermal papillae cells, and no one has figured that part out yet."

On a positive note, researchers from the Tokyo University of Science have reported promising results in reconstructing hair follicle germs from adult epithelial stem cells and cultured dermal papilla cells, so even though we haven't rounded the corner yet,it definitely seems to be getting closer.

The teams research is published in the journal Nature Communications.

Source: University of Pennsylvania

17 comments
Antony Innit
Baldness is a local hormonal change in cells. Rrubbing testosterone cream on your belly would tend to make it hairier, rubbing some kind of hormone on your head would encourage lush, thick hairgrowth. It would seem more logical than using stem cells no?
The question is, which hormone could inhibit the excess of hormones that causes balding, and which one could mimic adolescent hair growth?
It's just a chemical pathway that has yet to be found.
ivan4
Having been bald since I was 19 [now 70+] I don't have any hangups about it, in fact I can't remember ever having them.
That being said, I know there are a lot of men that think hair loss actually means something, although what exactly they can never explain - maybe they are just insecure. Therefore a plus for the research but I do have to ask 'why?'
alaskaken
Ivan, I could care less about my baldness. I have no insecurities. But Attractive Women unfortunately think otherwise.
Russ Jata
I guess they'll research repairing spinal cord injuries once this is in the can.
StWils
I am not especially bothered by aging driven hair loss or greying but I would like a full head of naturally coloured hair again. However, that mild bit of vanity aside the real big deal is being able to easily, affordably reverse a given condition, and in the case of hair, be able to easily and accurately measure the results. Being able to do this on the surface sets the stage for things like rebuilding heat valves, joint surfaces, or restoring eyesight or myelin insulation throughout the central nervous system. And, maybe, or maybe eventually, be able to do so quickly and cheaply. Maybe not soon enough for Stephen Hawking to be able to stand & talk again but, maybe, soon enough for lots of other people.
Michael Russer
Alaskakan, I have found just the opposite -- many of the very beautiful women I've met seem to actually find a bald head rather sexy. Just say'n...
_chuck28
@Russ Jata We have enough researchers and knowledge to pursue breakthroughs in hair loss AND spinal cord injuries. This research doesn't hinder progress in that field or any other field for that matter. Hair loss can really hurt the quality of life for some people. Not to downplay spinal cord injuries at all. But people are affected by this too. And there's plenty of room for progress to be made in both fields - in ALL fields.
YukonJack
I began going bald when I was in my early teens. I am 62 now and have never met a woman who was turned off by my not having a thick top knot. Some have even said a bald headed man was the mark of an "evolved" man. Hmm, when's the last time you saw a bald headed monkey? Ever wonder why your sex drive goes away when you use a hair loss remedy? A surefire method of keeping your hair is to lose your testicles. But, really the fact is DHT is the root cause of hair loss in men and women.
Nairda
Follicles need to still exist before regeneration. The rule I was given is hair treatment will work if there is still a follicle. General guide is if the scalp is not shiny you have a chance to use various treatments.
Tried the pharma approach and it worked, then I switched to natural and that works too, but not as well.
There are actually established ways to block the bad testosterone.
Stephen N Russell
Replicate process & mass produce & bye Bye Hairclub for Men?? Love this for Outpatient care alone, now how much for this treatment/s?