- Alopecia and other hair loss conditions may soon cease to exist.
- Scientists have brought up the use of stem cell therapy and 3D printing to promote new growth.
Baldness is one of the most widespread struggles that both men and women face around the world. Baldness and other hair loss conditions can drastically change the way that people look at themselves. However, walking through the tunnels in New York, there are many advertisements that claim that balding isn’t unpreventable, but it is optional instead, according to reports from The Atlantic.
The advertisements are part of Hims, which is an online seller that distributes finasteride and minoxidil (known by the trade names Propecia and Rogaine). The marketing appears to suggest that there are breakthroughs in this science, even though these two products have been available for years. The physiology of this process has been a focal point for many scientists for years, but it could soon change.
Multiple scientific publications have been examining the possibility of solving baldness with stem cell research and 3-D printing. Ultimately, it appears that the goal is to clone the individual’s actual hair before implanting it in the scalp of the patient.
A dermatologist in Manhattan, Robert Bernstein, said, “For a long time, we’ve been saying this is 10 years away. But now, it might actually be less.” Realistically, hair could be the simplest part of the body to recreate in a lab, because it is essentially a strand of wrapped protein filaments, and it doesn’t actually have to have a function like other parts of the body.
However, researchers are surprised by how complex hair actually is to create, as the body has to rely on thousands of stem cells to product a strong strand from the base of the hair follicle. Follicles have a limited life span and can become dormant over time. A dormant hair follicle cannot be restored, but doctors move hair from one spot to another in these “hair restoration” procedures.
Since it is illegal for someone else to donate hair that can grow from someone’s head, the only way to really remedy hair loss is to grow new hair., which is a place that science is still progressing. Some scientists have started to work on cell therapy, involving the stem cells of the patient, for regrowth. This therapy can be used in many different parts of the body, like in the attack of tumors and the healing of spinal cord injuries. Ultimately, scientists hope to develop “hair farms,” harvesting hair follicles and implanting them around the existing hair follicles.
At this point, the effects aren’t quite as long lasting as consumers may want. Bernstein explained,
“When you try to clone hair cells, over time they dedifferentiate and stop producing hair. For a long time, no one could figure out why.” However, in the last few years, scientists discovered that the follicular structure melts away as the cultured cells spread out. Bernstein added, “The epiphany was that if you can keep the cells together in their teardrop shape, so they continue to signal each other, they continue to grow into hair follicles.”
Angela Christiano, a professor of genetics and dermatology with Colombia University, has been examining the use of 3D printing to help the process, creating a mold that holds the follicle in place as it differentiates. By creating hair with cultured human cells, Christiano said that the process “will have a transformative impact on the medical management of different types of alopecia.”
Christiano herself suffers from an autoimmune disorder that causes hair loss. Though much of the attention in the world is centered around men’s hair loss, there are millions of women in the United States go through hair thinning and hair loss as well. Though Bernstein admits that there are still many issues that need to be worked out first, the idea that hair loss could be a thing of the pas is “really exciting.”