According to the American Hair Loss Association, two-thirds of men will experience hair loss by age 35. But women are also affected, 40% of all people who suffer from hair loss. Because it affects self-esteem and emotional well-being, the condition has been difficult to treat. But a 2014 study brings hope — in the form of human hair follicle-generating stem cells.
Researchers from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania published the results of their study in Nature in January 2014, where they described the method by which they could convert adult cells into epithelium stem cells (EPSCs).
While using stem cells to regrow hair follicles has been one possible technique to combat this baldnessUntil now, no one has been able to produce enough of these cells.
The team says they are the first to achieve this result in humans or mice.
Led by Dr. Xiaowei “George” Xu, an associate professor of pathology and laboratory medicine and dermatology at the University of Pennsylvania, the scientists began their research using human skin cells called dermal fibroblasts.
The researchers converted the human skin cells into induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) by adding three genes. These iPSCs can change into any cell type in the body, so the researchers converted them into epithelial stem cells, which are normally found in some of the hair follicles.
Using techniques from other research teams to convert iPSCs into keratinocytes – a main cell type in the top layer of the skin – Dr. Xu and colleagues suggested they could “force” the iPSCs to make large amounts of EpSCs by controlling the timing of growth factors the cells receive.
When they implanted these EpSCs in mice, the cells regenerated cell types from human skin and hair follicles, as well as creating recognizable hair shafts, which the team says holds promise for eventually regrowth hair in humans.
In 18 days, 25% of the iPSCs were converted to EpSCs, which were then purified using the proteins expressed on their surface, the team notes.
After mixing the human-derived EpSCs with mouse dermal cells, the team grafted them onto the skin of the mice and produced a functional human epidermis — the outer layers of the skin.
The hair follicles produced from this, the team notes, were structurally similar to human hair follicles.
dr. Xu says this is “the first time anyone has created scalable amounts of epithelial stem cells capable of generating the epithelial component of hair follicles,” adding that the cells can aid in wound healing, cosmetics and hair regeneration.
However, these cells are not yet ready for use in humans, as the team has only solved part of the equation. A hair follicle contains both epithelial cells and a certain type of adult stem cell called dermal papillae.
dr. Xu explains:
“When a person loses hair, they lose both types of cells. We solved one big problem, the epithelial component of the hair follicle. We need to find a way to make new dermal papilla cells as well, and no one has discovered that yet.”
However, he adds that stem cell researchers are starting to use new strategies using only chemical agents, which could lead to more solutions.
end of 2013 Medical news today reported on a study showing how scientists successfully grew human hairs from dermal papilla cells taken from inside the donor’s hair follicles, suggesting we’re one step closer to a cure for baldness.