The news that researchers had discovered a possible solution to male pattern hair loss has been covered extensively in the UK and around the world and Dr David Fenton was asked to comment on the story for one of our national newspapers.
Currently, hair transplant surgery is the only permanent solution to hair loss and entails transplanting hair follicles from the donor site to areas of hair loss. However, there are drawbacks to hair transplant surgery, not least that some patients do not have adequate follicles in the donor sites to cover their bald patches.
Now, scientists in the US have created hair that grows through the skin by manipulating human pluripotent stem cells – the ‘master’ cell that can become any type of cell in the body – into dermal papilla cells that regulate the formation of follicles as well as their length, growth and thickness.
The concept isn’t new, and the research team first proved it was possible to grow hair in this manner in 2015 but the hair looked unnatural and grew in a patchy manner. They have now refined the process and the hair that can be grown now looks incredibly natural.
A natural approach to hair loss
“Our new protocol overcomes key technological challenges that kept our discovery from real-world use,” explains Dr Alexey Terskikh, the research team leader and an associate professor in Sanford Burnham Prebys’ Development, Aging and Regeneration Program, when the research was presented at the International Society of Stem Cell Research in Los Angeles.
The team developed a technique whereby a biodegradable scaffold of the material used in dissolvable stitches is created to control how the hair grows and helps the stems cells integrate into the skin.
“Now we have a robust, highly controlled method for generating natural-looking hair that grows through the skin using an unlimited source of human stem cell-derived dermal papilla cells.
“This is a critical breakthrough in the development of cell-based hair-loss therapies and the regenerative medicine field.”
Currently, the process has only been tested on mice, but the team are working towards human trials. With two-thirds of UK men affected by male pattern hair loss, it’s not surprising that this news has been greeted with interest, as Dr David Fenton commented to the Sun’s Nick McDermott.