Scientists are investigating stem cells in different ways for use in hair restoration. Angela Christiano, a dermatology professor at Columbia University with a special interest in hair genetics, has formed a company to investigate growing hair stem cells in the laboratory that can be injected into the scalp, thereby regenerating inactive hair follicles. According to an article in the New York Times (April 15, 2015), she would start by harvesting a patch of 50 to 100 hairs from a patient’s scalp and then dissect and duplicate them under laboratory conditions to produce millions of stem cells, enough to inject all over the scalp. Christiano hopes to begin clinical trials of the technique in 2016 or 2017.
Gene therapy is another avenue of research. Curis is working on a model using sonic hedgehog, a protein that plays a role in organ development—but there are dozens of genes that control hair growth so this protein alone is unlikely to hold the key to hair restoration.
The online journal PLOS (January 21, 2015) includes an article by researchers from Sanford-Burnham University that may be central to the development of hair restoration stem cell therapy. They created dermal papilla cells from embryonic stem cells and showed these cells could stimulate hair growth. The research was done with mice and will have to be duplicated in humans. With so much progress made and so many promising solutions in the pipeline, physicians have a wealth of information to share with patients who are struggling with thinning or lost hair.
Linda W. Lewis is the contributing editor of MedEsthetics.
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