Has a cure for baldness been found? Scientists use stem cells to grow hair in breakthrough research
The research team created natural-looking hair that grows through the skin using human induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), which can be generated directly from adult cells; Human iPSCs can replicate indefinitely, and can be derived from a simple blood draw
A cure for baldness is now closer as scientists grow hair using human stem cells, shows breakthrough research. The research, in which functional hair follicles have been grown from stem cells, is a significant scientific achievement that could revolutionize the hair growth industry.
Hair loss is often associated with emotional distress that can reduce the quality of life and lead to anxiety and depression. According to the research findings — presented In June by scientists from Sanford Burnham Prebys at the annual meeting of the International Society for Stem Cell Research (ISSCR) — the team has created natural-looking hair that grows through the skin using human induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs). Distinct from any other approaches to hair follicle regeneration, human iPSCs provide an unlimited supply of cells and can be derived from a simple blood draw.
A newly formed company, Stemson Therapeutics, has licensed the technology. According to information on the company’s website, $4.5 billion is spent annually on hair loss treatments in the US, and 133,000 hair restoration surgeries are performed yearly in the US.
Further, according to the American Academy of Dermatology, the most common cause of hair loss is a medical condition called hereditary hair loss. About 80 million men and women in the US have this type of hair loss. Other names for this type of hair loss are male-pattern baldness, female-pattern baldness, and androgenetic alopecia.
Scientists say that iPSCs can be generated directly from adult cells and can replicate indefinitely. Because of this ability of iPSCs, the research team says that their method is a critical breakthrough over current methods that rely on transplanting existing hair follicles from one part of the head to another. The new stem cell method provides an unlimited source of cells from the patient for transplantation and is not limited by the availability of existing hair follicles.
According to UCLA’s Broad Stem Cell Research Center (BSCRC), “iPSC are derived from skin or blood cells that have been reprogrammed back into an embryonic-like pluripotent state that enables the development of an unlimited source of any type of human cell needed for therapeutic purposes. In late 2007, a BSCRC team of faculty were among the first in the world to create human iPSC.”
The current research work builds on the team’s previous work, which was published in 2015 in the journal PLOS One. The researchers studied a type of cell called dermal papilla, which resides inside the hair follicle. These cells control hair growth, including hair thickness, length, and growth cycle. In 2015, according to the paper, the team successfully “grew hair underneath mouse skin (subcutaneous) by creating dermal papilla, derived from human pluripotent stem cells. But it was an uncontrolled process that required further refinement.”
In their current approach, the researchers used a 3D biodegradable scaffold made from the same material as dissolvable stitches. The scaffold controls the direction of hair growth and helps the stem cells integrate into the skin, a naturally tough barrier. The current protocol relies on mouse epithelial cells combined with human dermal papilla cells. The experiments were conducted in immunodeficient nude mice, which lack body hair.
The new method, according to the researchers, overcomes critical technological challenges that kept their discovery from real-world use. The new protocol, describe the researchers, is 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.
While the technology was discovered and developed at Sanford Burnham Prebys, further development and commercialization activities will be done by Stemson Therapeutics. The scientists are now working to apply the process to humans by combining human iPSC-derived epithelial and dermal papilla cells, which they say will enable the generation of entirely human hair follicles, ready for allogeneic transplantation in humans.