Stem Cell Research and Hair Loss

With the rise of stem cell research, there is a new hope amongst androgenetic alopecia sufferers that this cutting-edge research will not only reveal unknown mysteries about hair loss, but will also provide treatments that may finally put an end to alopecia entirely.



Although proponents suggest that cures for various ailments are right around the corner, the consensus in the scientific community is that the application of stem cell research for new hair loss treatments may be decades away. Still, stem cell research is helping researchers better understand how certain conditions or illnesses evolve, as well as develop new ways to treat (or possibly cure) these conditions in the future – androgenetic alopecia among them.

Breakthroughs: Stem Cells and Hair Loss Research

Stem cell research into hair loss is showing promise, but researchers caution that stem cell treatments are still far from a reality. But as the understanding of other underlying causes of hair loss become greater, so do the treatment options that may become available in the future.

Here are some of the most recent breakthroughs in understanding how stem cells may influence hair loss – and how they may be used for treatments down the road.

National Institute of Genetics (Japan)

Japanese researchers from the National Institute of Genetics published a report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, detailing the research on cyclical hair loss in mice. What the researchers discovered was that mice experiencing this kind of hair loss were deficient in the Sox21 gene. Since humans also carry the Sox21 gene, researchers theorize that the absence of this gene may explain some cases of hair loss. Although further studies need to be completed before the gene can be proven to be a contributing factor in androgenetic alopecia, there is hope that this link is relevant, thus opening up yet another avenue for treatment in the prevention of hair loss.

Berlin Technical University

In 2010, scientists from Berlin Technical University announced that they had used stem cells to create new hair follicles in mice. Research leader Dr. Roland Lauster optimistically suggested that the same may be possible with human hair follicles within five years.  If scientists are able to create human follicles, this may eliminate the need for harvesting existing hair follicles for transplant surgery. Lauster also suggested that cloning human hair via stem cell extraction would also do away with the cosmetic industry’s need to test their products on animals.

In mid-2011, human hair was successfully cloned by extracting stem cells from hair follicles. However, only one or two clones could be created from a single hair. Scientists from Berlin Technical University, the University of Melbourne, St. Vincent’s Hospital, and the British company Intercytex, were left to figure out how to yield more follicles per hair. Therefore, the research is ongoing. The hope is to clone hundreds, and possibly thousands of hairs from a single human hair.



University of Pennsylvania

The Department of Dermatology at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Medicine released some interesting findings in January of 2011. Researchers discovered that the cause of male pattern baldness may be due to a lack of mature hair-making stem cells. The lack of these cells causes hair follicles to shrink, but contrary to previous thinking, it does not cause them to disappear entirely. Researchers discovered that these shrunken follicles still produce hair, although the new hairs are microscopic in size compared to normal hair. The researchers are now hoping that they will eventually find a treatment that will reactivate the dormant hair-making stem cells, which will in turn cause hair thicker, longer hair to grow. While this treatment may be developed years down the road, this new understanding of how stem cells contribute to hair loss is seen as major breakthrough in the hair loss treatment community.

University of Southern California

Later in 2011, researchers studying hair growth patterns in shaved mice and rabbits, found that seasonal hair growth and shedding is triggered by hormones in the animal’s skin, as well as signals from the animal’s body. These researchers, from the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California, also discovered that androgenetic alopecia in men is caused not only by DHT in the hair follicles, but also in the tissue that surrounds those follicles.

Researchers now theorize that if an animal, such as the rabbit, can re-grow hair as a result of being exposed to large population of hair growth stem cells; it may be possible to stimulate hair growth in humans by the same means. Essentially, the focus will not just be on the stem cells in the hair follicles, but also on the stem cells in the tissue surrounding the follicle; thus creating the optimal conditions for natural hair growth.

The Future of Stem Cell Hair Loss Treatments

By the standards of the research community, stem cell research is still in its infancy. The long-term benefits and rewards of the research are enormously promising, although still not fully grasped.  At this point, all that is known is that stem cells may very well be the key to more non-invasive, and perhaps more medically safe treatments, than procedures being used today.

Links

A .pdf summary of research done at the National Institute of Genetics can be viewed online. A more layman-friendly summary is available at Reuters.

Fox News has a brief summary of the research conducted by at Berlin Technical University.

Read the original article on how stem cells affect hair loss on Penn Medicine’s website (“Male Pattern Balding May Be Due to Stem Cell Inactivation, According to Penn Study”). Or check out the CBS Early Show’s report on the discovery.

You can also read the Keck School of Medicine’s report on the research conducted on the relationship between hair growth and stem cells in mice and rabbits.