Good hair day: stem cell breakthrough puts cure for baldness within reach
A cure for baldness is on the horizon after stem cell scientists created hair that grows through the skin using human stem cells.
Currently, transplanting hair follicles from one part of the head to the other is the only option for the millions facing male pattern baldness, alopecia or burns.
But now scientists in the US have coaxed human pluripotent stem cells - the type which can become anything - into dermal papilla cells, which regulate hair follicle formation, thickness, length and growth.
Usually, dermal papilla cells cannot be obtained in large enough amounts to be useful for restoring hair growth. But growing them from stem cells means scientists can create an unlimited supply for transplantation.
The team showed it could be done in 2015, but then the hair appeared haphazard and unnatural. Four years on, they have refined the process to create tufts of hair that look and feel real. It marks an important step towards the development of an injection that could treat hair loss.
"Our new protocol overcomes key technological challenges that kept our discovery from real-world use," said Dr Alexey Terskikh, an associate professor in Sanford Burnham Prebys' development, ageing and regeneration programme.
"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."
The new technique uses a 3D biodegradable scaffold made from the same material as dissolvable stitches, which controls the direction of hair growth and helps the stem cells integrate into the skin.
Scientists are hopeful that in future they will be able to take a blood sample from a patient, isolate their stem cells and coax them to become huge amounts dermal papilla cells before injecting them directly into the head, where they will embed and grow. The research was presented at the International Society of Stem Cell Research in Los Angeles. (© Daily Telegraph, London)