Researchers from the Columbia University Irving Medical Centre have managed to successfully grow human hair in a lab environment.
Up until now, there hasn’t been a way to grow human hair without it being implanted into the scalp. However, the Columbia researchers found a way to grow the hair completely in a dish without it needing to be implanted. It is thought this discovery could now lead to hair restoration surgery being available to more patients, including women. It could also help pharmaceutical companies improve future hair growth drug treatments.
The researchers grew the hair within a 3D environment. So, could 3D printing be the solution to male pattern hair loss?
Understanding the study
While researchers have been able to successfully grow mice and rat hairs in a lab environment for years, human hairs have proven to be more difficult to generate. In rodents, cells taken from the follicle base have gone on to grow beautiful, healthy hair. However, scientists were unsure why human hair cells didn’t respond in the same way.
In order to get past the resistance in the human hair cells, Columbia researchers have been trying to mimic the 3D environment the hairs would usually grow in. In this new study, they focused on 3D printing to generate a natural microenvironment that would encourage healthy hair growth.
Plastic moulds with thin, long half a millimetre-wide extensions were created using 3D printers. Then, human skin was engineered to grow all around the mould, before the hair follicle cells were added into deep wells. Finally, they were covered by cells which are known to produce keratin.
Growth factors, enhanced with things such as JAK Inhibitors, were then fed to the cells. Within three weeks, hair follicles developed and began growing new hair.
Could the discovery lead to future hair farms?
After the study was a success, it has opened up the possibility of future “hair farms”. Millions of hair follicles could be grown at any one time, allowing them to be used in hair transplant procedures.
At the moment, patients experiencing male pattern hair loss aren’t always good candidates for hair transplant treatment. This is because a good level of donor hairs needs to be present on the back or sides of the scalp. As the hairs grown in the lab don’t need donor hairs to support their growth, it enables patients with more severe hair loss to undergo hair transplant treatment.
Hair farms are certainly a possibility in the future and it’s all thanks to 3D printing technology.
Work still needs to be done before new technique is clinically available
While this new development is certainly exciting for hair loss specialists, more work does need to be done. The process will need to be optimised and commercialised before I can be added onto the market as a potential hair loss treatment.
This could take quite a few years, but the results of the study show it is definitely a feasible hair loss treatment option for the future. In the meantime, patients do have effective treatment options to manage male pattern hair loss. If you want to minimise and slow down your hair loss, speaking to a hair specialist will help you to identify the best treatment option to suit you.