News / Science & Technology

Could a Cure for Baldness Be on the Horizon?

Spheres of cultured papillae cells from human hair follicles successfully produced new human hair when transplanted between the dermis and epidermis of human skin. (Claire Higgins/Christiano Lab at Columbia University Medical Center)
Spheres of cultured papillae cells from human hair follicles successfully produced new human hair when transplanted between the dermis and epidermis of human skin. (Claire Higgins/Christiano Lab at Columbia University Medical Center)
Rick Pantaleo
Researchers at the Columbia University Medical Center may have come with something that many have been in search of for years, the ability to actually grow new hair on a balding head. 

The researchers, writing in a study that was published online Monday by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), say they have come up with a method that can actually generate new hair growth, not just redistribute hair from one particular part of the head to another.

Most people normally shed between 50 and 100 strands of hair each day.  Losing that much hair, believe it or not, shouldn’t cause noticeable thinning of scalp hair says the Mayo Clinic. But for many, especially as they get older, their hair gradually thins out, some to the point where the hair loss or alopecia can affect a person’s overall appearance. 

Since, to many, a full healthy head of hair symbolizes youth and vitality, a balding head could represent the opposite, getting old and not being as vibrant. 

As a result, the hair restoration industry has become a $1.88 billion a year business.

Hair loss in women can prove to be a much more serious problem than in men, since the psychological effects and the impact to self-esteem due to hair loss can be increased. 

Many of today’s modern restoration techniques may not be as effective since women tend to have insufficient donor hair.

"About 90 percent of women with hair loss are not strong candidates for hair transplantation surgery because of insufficient donor hair," said co-study leader Angela M. Christiano, PhD, a professor of dermatology and professor of genetics & development. "This method offers the possibility of inducing large numbers of hair follicles or rejuvenating existing hair follicles, starting with cells grown from just a few hundred donor hairs. It could make hair transplantation available to individuals with a limited number of follicles, including those with female-pattern hair loss, scarring alopecia, and hair loss due to burns."

For the first time, researchers have been able to take human dermal papilla cells (those inside the base of human hair follicles) and use them to create new hairs. (Claire Higgins/Christiano Lab at Columbia University Medical Center)For the first time, researchers have been able to take human dermal papilla cells (those inside the base of human hair follicles) and use them to create new hairs. (Claire Higgins/Christiano Lab at Columbia University Medical Center)
x
For the first time, researchers have been able to take human dermal papilla cells (those inside the base of human hair follicles) and use them to create new hairs. (Claire Higgins/Christiano Lab at Columbia University Medical Center)
For the first time, researchers have been able to take human dermal papilla cells (those inside the base of human hair follicles) and use them to create new hairs. (Claire Higgins/Christiano Lab at Columbia University Medical Center)
Patients suffering from such hair loss, according to Christiano, gain very little benefit from the already existing hair-loss treatments and medications.  While the treatments may slow down the rate of hair loss, they usually do not stimulate robust new hair growth.

The researchers said that dermal papilla cells – protrusions from inner skin tissue – can produce hair follicles. They also said the idea of using the cells to clone hair follicles has been around for the last 40 or so years.

In past experiments, the researchers said that they had some problems in actually producing human hair follicles. They found that once they put dermal papilla cells into a conventional, two-dimensional tissue culture instead of producing hair follicles as they had hoped, the cells simply reverted into basic skin cells that weren’t able to produce hair follicles.

“So we were faced with a Catch-22: how to expand a sufficiently large number of cells for hair regeneration while retaining their inductive properties,” said Colin Jahoda, from Durham University, England, and co-director of North East England Stem Cell Institute.

To get beyond this paradox the researchers studied rodent hair.  With a method developed by Jahoda, scientists were able gather papillae cells from rodents, grow hair and successfully transplant the cells back into rodent skin.

The researchers said that they suspected that the chief reason why rodent hair can be so easily transplanted is that, unlike human papillae, their dermal papillae must have an ability to create a special environment outside of the cells, which would allow the papillae to reprogram the skin of the recipient to grow new follicles.

"This suggested that if we cultured human papillae in such a way as to encourage them to aggregate the way rodent cells do spontaneously, it could create the conditions needed to induce hair growth in human skin," said the study’s first author Claire A. Higgins, PhD, associate research scientist.

In order to see if their theory could be proven, the scientists gathered dermal papillae from seven human donors and cloned the cells in a tissue culture, adding no additional growth factors into the mix.  

A few days later, they transplanted the cultured papillae between the dermis and epidermis of human skin and then grafted the skin onto the backs of mice.
The researchers found that in five out of seven tests performed not only did the transplants produce new hair growth, but the hair itself also lasted for at least six weeks.

Using a DNA analysis, the researchers confirmed that the new hair follicles that grew on the mice’s backs were indeed human and that they genetically matched the donors.

"This approach has the potential to transform the medical treatment of hair loss," said Christiano. "Current hair-loss medications tend to slow the loss of hair follicles or potentially stimulate the growth of existing hairs, but they do not create new hair follicles. Neither do conventional hair transplants, which relocate a set number of hairs from the back of the scalp to the front. Our method, in contrast, has the potential to actually grow new follicles using a patient's own cells. This could greatly expand the utility of hair restoration surgery to women and to younger patients—now it is largely restricted to the treatment of male-pattern baldness in patients with stable disease."

The scientists did point out that more research and study will need to be done before they can actually test the method on humans.  

The research team said they are optimistic that clinical trials could begin in the near future.

"We also think that this study is an important step toward the goal of creating a replacement skin that contains hair follicles for use with, for example, burn patients," said Jahoda.

You May Like

Photogallery South Africa Bans Travelers From Ebola-stricken Countries

South Africans returning from affected West African countries will be thoroughly screened, required to fill out medical questionnaire, health minister says More

Multimedia UN Launches ‘Biggest Aid Operation in 30 Years’ in Iraq

Move aims to help thousands of Iraqi religious minorities who fled their homes as Kurdish, Iraqi government forces battle Sunni insurgents More

Video African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebola

IT specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about disease More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Gaza Conflict, Hamas Popularity Challenge Abbasi
X
Scott Stearns
August 21, 2014 9:20 PM
The Palestinian unity government of Mahmoud Abbas has failed to convince Hamas to agree to Egyptian-negotiated terms with Israel on a Gaza cease-fire. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports on what the Gaza conflict means for President Abbas, with whom U.S. officials have worked for years on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Video

Video Gaza Conflict, Hamas Popularity Challenge Abbas

The Palestinian unity government of Mahmoud Abbas has failed to convince Hamas to agree to Egyptian-negotiated terms with Israel on a Gaza cease-fire. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports on what the Gaza conflict means for President Abbas, with whom U.S. officials have worked for years on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Video

Video Nigeria's 'Nollywood' Movie Industry Rolls in High Gear

Twenty years after its birth in a video shop in Lagos, Nigeria's "Nollywood" is one of the most prolific film industries on earth. Despite low budgets and whirlwind production schedules, Nigerian films are wildly popular in Africa and industry professionals say they hope, in the future, their films will be as great in quality as they are in quantity. Heather Murdock has more for VOA from Lagos.
Video

Video UN Launches 'Biggest Aid Operation in 30 Years' in Iraq

The United Nations has launched what it describes as one of the biggest aid operations in 30 years in northern Iraq, as hundreds of thousands of refugees flee the extremist Sunni militant group calling itself the Islamic State. As Kurdish and Iraqi forces battle the Sunni insurgents, the fighting has forced more people to flee their homes. Kurdish authorities say the international community must act now to avert a humanitarian catastrophe. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Cambodian American Hip Hop Artist Sings of Personal Struggles

A growing underground movement of Cambodian American hip hop artists is rapping about the struggles of living in urban America. Most, if not all of them, are refugees or children of refugees who came to the United States from Cambodia to escape the Khmer Rouge genocide of the 1970s. Through their music, the artists hope to give voice to immigrants who have been struggling quietly for years. Elizabeth Lee reports from Long Beach, California.
Video

Video African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebola

While the Ebola epidemic continues to claim lives in West Africa, information technology specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about the disease - using social media to educate the public about the deadly virus. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Ferguson Calls for Justice as Anger, Violence Grips Community

Violence, anger and frustration continue to grip the small St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri. Protests broke out after a white police officer fatally shot an unarmed black teenager on August 9. The case has sparked outrage around the nation and prompted the White House to send U.S. Attorney Eric Holder to the small community of just over 20,000 people. VOA’s Mary Alice Salinas has more from Ferguson.
Video

Video Beheading Of US Journalist Breeds Outrage

U.S. and British authorities have launched an investigation into an Islamic State video showing the beheading of kidnapped American journalist James Foley by a militant with a British accent. The extremist group, which posted the video on the Internet Tuesday, said the murder was revenge for U.S. airstrikes on militant positions in Iraq - and has threatened to execute another American journalist it is holding. Henry Ridgwell has more from London.
Video

Video Family Robots - The Next Big Thing?

Robots that can help us with daily chores like cooking and cleaning are a long way off, but automatons that serve as family companions may be much closer. Researchers in the United States, France, Japan and other countries are racing to build robots that can entertain and perform some simpler tasks for us. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video In Ukraine, Fear and Distrust Remain Where Fighting has Stopped

As the Ukrainian military reclaims control of eastern cities from pro-Russian separatists, residents are getting a chance to rebuild their lives. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the town of Kramatorsk in Donetsk province, where a sense of fear is still in the air, and distrust of the government in Kyiv still runs deep.
Video

Video Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improving

The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video China Targets Overseas Assets of Corrupt Officials

As China presses forward with its anti-graft effort, authorities are targeting corrupt officials who have sent family members and assets overseas. The efforts have stirred up a debate at home on exactly how many officials take that route and how likely it is they will be caught. Rebecca Valli has this report.
Video

Video Leading The Fight Against Islamic State, Kurds Question Iraqi Future

Western countries including the United States have begun arming the Kurdish Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq to aid their battle against extremist Sunni militants from the Islamic State. But there are concerns that a heavily-armed Kurdistan Regional Government, or KRG, might seek to declare independence and cause the break-up of the Iraqi state. As Henry Ridgwell reports from London, the KRG says it will only seek greater autonomy from Baghdad.
Video

Video In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcision

In some Kenyan communities, female genital mutilation remains a rite of passage. But activists are pushing back, with education for girls and with threats of punishment those who perform the circumcision. Mohammed Yusuf looks at the practice in the rural eastern community of Tharaka-Nithi.

AppleAndroid